Payette River Property Owners Ass'n v. Board of Com'rs of Valley County

Decision Date05 April 1999
Docket NumberNo. 23773,23773
Citation132 Idaho 551,976 P.2d 477
PartiesThe PAYETTE RIVER PROPERTY OWNERS ASSOCIATION, an unincorporated association, and Herbert Schneider, an individual, Petitioners-Respondents-Cross Appellants, v. BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF VALLEY COUNTY, a political subdivision of the State of Idaho; L.B. Industries, Inc., an Idaho corporation; and Payette River Subdivision Partnership, Respondents-Appellants-Cross Respondents. Boise, December 1998 Term
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Jones, Gledhill, Hess, Andrews, Fuhrman, Bradbury & Eiden, PA, Boise, for appellants. Stephen A. Bradbury argued.

Jim Jones & Associates, Boise, for respondents. John C. McCreedy argued.

TROUT, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal of a zoning decision by the Board of Commissioners of Valley County (Board), in favor of LB. Industries, Inc., and the Payette River Subdivision Partnership (Partnership). The Board issued a conditional use permit to the Partnership for development of a subdivision. On appeal, the district court reversed the Board's decision and the Partnership now appeals to this Court. We affirm the district court.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Early in 1991, the Partnership informally advised the Valley County Planning and Zoning Commission (P & Z Commission) and the county engineer of its intent to proceed with development of a proposed residential subdivision referred to as Payette River Subdivision, No. 3 in Valley County, Idaho. The proposed subdivision would involve 38 lots located on a 41-acre tract adjacent to the North Fork of the Payette River. Most of the land in the proposed subdivision is located in a flood-prone area which is subject to inundation every 100 years.

On January 16, 1992, the Partnership applied to the county engineer for a flood plain development permit. The permit was eventually approved and issued for site grading for roads and building sites in the subdivision on January 18, 1995.

On May 13, 1992, the Partnership filed an application for a conditional use permit and approval of the preliminary plat for the subdivision. At the time of filing, Valley County had in effect a Land Use and Development Ordinance enacted in 1982 (1982 Ordinance) and a Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance No. 3-90 (Ordinance 3-90), which was enacted in 1990. In 1992, after the application was filed but before the conditional use permit was issued, Valley County enacted a new Land Use and Development Ordinance (1992 Ordinance).

During a September 24, 1992 Valley County P & Z Commission hearing, the P & Z Commission tabled the Partnership's application and advised the Partnership that in order to continue, the P & Z Commission needed additional information. The additional information included a preliminary plat layout and various permits such as the flood plain development permit for which the Partnership had applied earlier that year.

After the Partnership had provided the additional information and permits to the P & Z Commission, a second hearing occurred on February 23, 1995 at which supporters and opponents of the subdivision presented evidence. On March 23, 1995, the P & Z Commission voted to deny the conditional use application and issued findings of fact and conclusions on April 13, 1995.

The Partnership subsequently appealed to the Board arguing that the decision of the P & Z Commission was based on erroneous information and an improper interpretation of applicable county ordinances. The Board addressed the issue during an April 24, 1995 meeting at which supporters and opponents again testified and the Board took the matter under advisement. The Board considered the matter again on May 8, 1995. During the May 8 meeting, no public testimony was presented, but the Board discussed the matter and heard comments from the county attorney and a member of the P & Z Commission. The Board voted to approve the application at the end of the May 8 meeting and subsequently issued findings of fact and conclusions of law on June 28, 1995. The Board concluded in the June 28, 1995 findings, that, among other things, the proposed development complied with the goals and objectives of the Valley County Comprehensive Plan, that the 1992 Ordinance did not apply to the application, and that the proposed filling of part of the project complied with the Flood-Prone Areas section of the 1982 Ordinance. The Board approved the application and ordered a conditional use permit for a preliminary plat of the subdivision subject to a number of conditions, including that the Partnership apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency The Respondents, the Payette River Property Owners Association, Inc. (Association) and Herbert Schneider, the Association's president, (hereinafter collectively referred to as the Association) filed a petition for judicial review asserting that the Board's decision was arbitrary and capricious, not supported by substantial evidence on the record as a whole, and in violation of the Board's statutory authority. After lodging of the reporter's transcripts of the hearings, the Association objected to the sufficiency of the record, objecting mainly to the failure to record the Board's May 8, 1995 meeting. Although the Board heard objection and decided that the transcripts presented a fair and accurate account of the proceedings as a whole, the Board decided to re-announce its decision in a recorded public meeting so that a transcript could be made. That public meeting was held on May 31, 1996 and the Board's May 8, 1995 decision was re-adopted, as were the June 28, 1995 findings of fact and conclusions of law On May 10, 1997, the district court entered its decision on the petition for judicial review. The district court determined that, despite the deference given to the Board's interpretation of its ordinances, the conditional use permit violated the clear and unambiguous prohibition on residential construction in a flood-prone area contained in the 1982 Ordinance. The district court then found it unnecessary to address the remaining issues given the court's decision regarding the interpretation of the ordinance. Last, the district court declined to award attorney fees to the Association pursuant to I.C. § 12-117. The Partnership now appeals from the district court's decision denying the permit and the Association cross-appeals from the denial of attorney fees.

(FEMA) for amendment of the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM).

II. DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review

The Idaho Administrative Procedures Act (IDAPA) governs the review of local zoning decisions. Price v. Payette County Bd. of County Comm'rs, 131 Idaho 426, 429, 958 P.2d 583, 586 (1998). The standard of review for such a proceeding is well settled. In a subsequent appeal from the district court's decision where the district court was acting in its appellate capacity under the IDAPA, the Supreme Court reviews the agency record independently of the district court's decision. Castaneda v. Brighton Corp., 130 Idaho 923, 926, 950 P.2d 1262, 1265 (1998). The Court can not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. I.C. § 67-5279(1) (1989). The Court defers to the agency's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous and the agency's factual determinations are binding on the reviewing court, even when there is conflicting evidence before the agency, so long as the determinations are supported by evidence in the record. South Fork Coalition v. Board of Comm'rs of Bonneville County, 117 Idaho 857, 860, 792 P.2d 882, 885 (1990). Additionally, there is a strong presumption of favoring the validity of the actions of zoning boards, which includes the application and interpretation of their own zoning ordinances. Howard v. Canyon County Bd. of Comm'rs, 128 Idaho 479, 480, 915 P.2d 709, 711 (1996).

A Board's zoning decision may only be overturned where its findings: (a) violate statutory or constitutional provisions; (b) exceed the agency's statutory authority; (c) are made upon unlawful procedure; (d) are not supported by substantial evidence; or (e) are arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. I.C. 67-5279(3)(a)--(e) (1989); Price, 131 Idaho at 429, 958 P.2d at 586. The party attacking a zoning board's action under I.C. § 67-5279(3) must first illustrate that the zoning board erred in a manner specified in I.C. § 67-5279(3) and must then show that a substantial right of the party has been prejudiced. Castaneda, 130 Idaho at 926, 950 P.2d at 1265 (citing Angstman v. City of Boise, 128 Idaho 575, 578, 917 P.2d 409, 412 (Ct.App.1996)).

B. The Partnership's Motion to Dismiss Appeal, Vacate District Court Decision and Remand to District Court for Dismissal is denied.

Subsequent to the district court's decision, this Court issued its opinion in Bothwell v. In Bothwell, Jayo Construction (Jayo) had submitted applications for approval of a preliminary subdivision plat and a flood plain development permit. The city counsel approved a preliminary plat application, but did not approve or deny the flood plain permit application. Bothwell, 130 Idaho at 175, 938 P.2d at 1213. In its approval of the preliminary plat application, the council included conditions that Jayo was required to fulfill before approval of a final subdivision plat and flood plain permit. Id. Although the Board in this case, like the city council in Bothwell, only approved a preliminary plat for the subdivision, we distinguish this case from Bothwell on the basis that in Bothwell, unlike the instant case, no permits had been issued that would have allowed an immediate and material alteration of the land.

City of Eagle, 130 Idaho 174, 938 P.2d 1212 (1997) in which we held, based on our previous decision in South Fork Coalition v. Board of Commissioners, 112 Idaho 89, 730 P.2d 1009 (1986), that approval of a preliminary plat is not a final decision subject to judicial review. Following the release of Bothwell, the...

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