South Fork Coalition v. Board of Com'rs of Bonneville County

Decision Date29 January 1990
Docket NumberNo. 17792,17792
Citation117 Idaho 857,792 P.2d 882
PartiesThe SOUTH FORK COALITION, an unincorporated association, Plaintiff-Appellant, and Cross-Respondent, v. The BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS OF BONNEVILLE COUNTY, Idaho, said Board consisting of Clyde Burtenshaw, A. Wylie Snarr, and Clifford Long, Defendants-Respondents, Cross-Appellants.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

Hopkins, French, Crockett, Springer & Hoopes, C. Timothy Hopkins (argued), Idaho Falls, for plaintiff-appellant, and cross-respondent.

Anderson, Pike & Bush, Blake G. Hall (argued), Idaho Falls, for defendants-respondents, cross-appellants.

BOYLE, Justice.

The South Fork Coalition (hereafter "South Fork") appeals the decision of the district court approving a final development plan of a planned unit development (hereafter "PUD") on the Hays ranch. We affirm.

On August 24, 1984, J.R. Hays and Sons, Inc. (hereafter "Hays"), owner of approximately 3,000 acres of agricultural ground in the Antelope Flats area of Bonneville County, applied for preliminary approval of a PUD consisting of sixty-six single family residential units on a portion of its property near the South Fork of the Snake River. The proposed development involves approximately 550 acres and is located in a G-1 Grazing zone. In addition to the sixty-six proposed residential units, the development The Bonneville County Planning and Zoning Commission (hereafter "Commission") held a public hearing, and thereafter recommended denial of the proposed PUD. Hays appealed that recommendation to the Bonneville County Commissioners (hereafter "Board of Commissioners"), which held a public hearing and subsequently approved the preliminary plan.

[117 Idaho 859] plans include a golf course and boat ramp. The sixty-six acres of property proposed to be developed are not used for agricultural purposes due to their location and terrain.

South Fork, which organized after the hearing before the Board of Commissioners, filed a petition for review and a notice of appeal with the district court. The district court reversed the decision of the Board of Commissioners and Hays appealed to this Court which ruled that the appeal was premature and stated that the district court should have dismissed the appeal. South Fork Coalition v. Board of Commrs., 112 Idaho 89, 730 P.2d 1009 (1986). This Court reversed in South Fork I because the Board of Commissioners had only given preliminary approval of the plan, had not rendered any final decision, and all administrative remedies had not been exhausted. South Fork Coalition v. Board of Commrs., 112 Idaho at 90, 730 P.2d at 1010.

At the time Hays applied for preliminary approval in 1984, the Bonneville County zoning ordinance permitted the type of PUD proposed. However, in May, 1986, following the district court's ruling in the case appealed in South Fork I, Bonneville County amended ordinance 1-702 to permit only one residence for every sixty acres in A-1 and G-1 zoned areas. 1

On December 28, 1987, Hays submitted an application for approval of a final development plan. The Commission recommended approval and the Board of Commissioners approved the final development plan. In its May 11, 1988 Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Decision, the Board of Commissioners expressly adopted and incorporated by reference its December 4, 1984 order as being "still applicable to this PUD proposal." South Fork filed a petition for review with the district court which found that the Board made a sufficient factual inquiry, that the findings of fact were supported by the evidence and the decision approving the plan was not clearly erroneous, arbitrary or capricious. South Fork now appeals from the district court's order affirming the Board's decision approving the final development plan.

South Fork asserts that the Board erred when it failed to apply the May 1, 1986 amended ordinance to Hays' application of a final development plan. In addition, South Fork argues that Hays' application for approval of a final development plan was not timely, and that the Bonneville County Comprehensive Plan prohibits the planned development.

I.

Standard and Scope of Judicial Review.

The standard of judicial review of an administrative decision is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act. I.C. § 67-5201. Idaho Code § 67-5215 defines the reviewing court's scope of inquiry and provides that the review shall be confined to the record. I.C. § 67-5215(g) sets forth the standard for judicial review of agency decisions as follows:

(g) The court shall not substitute its judgment for that of the agency as to the weight of the evidence on questions of fact. The court may affirm the decision of the agency or remand the case for further proceedings. The court may reverse or modify the decision if substantial rights of the appellant have been prejudiced because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions, or decisions are:

(1) in violation of constitutional or statutory provisions:

(2) in excess of the statutory authority of the agency;

(3) made upon unlawful procedure;

(4) affected by other error of law;

(5) clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence on the whole record; or

(6) arbitrary or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion. (Emphasis added.)

The Board of Commissioners is treated as an administrative agency for purposes of judicial review, Intermountain Health Care, Inc. v. Board of County Commrs., 107 Idaho 248, 688 P.2d 260 (Ct.App.1984), rev'd on other grounds, 109 Idaho 299, 707 P.2d 410 (1985), and review of a zoning commission's denial of a zoning request is governed by the Administrative Procedure Act, I.C. § 67-5215(b) through (g). Workman Family Partnership v. City of Twin Falls, 104 Idaho 32, 655 P.2d 926 (1982); Hill v. Board of County Commrs., 101 Idaho 850, 623 P.2d 462 (1981); Walker-Schmidt Ranch v. Blaine County, 101 Idaho 420, 614 P.2d 960 (1980); Cooper v. Board of County Commrs., 101 Idaho 407, 614 P.2d 947 (1980).

This Court's responsibility and role in reviewing an administrative decision has been addressed on numerous occasions. First, there is a strong presumption favoring the validity of the actions of zoning boards, and we have upheld the validity of their actions whenever they are free from capriciousness, arbitrariness or discrimination. Ready-To-Pour, Inc. v. McCoy, 95 Idaho 510, 511 P.2d 792 (1973). The Bonneville County zoning ordinances expressly give special consideration to planned unit developments, 2 and the Court must apply the presumption of validity afforded to the county commissioners when adopting, interpreting and applying its zoning ordinances.

It is also well settled that we can review the record independently of the district court's review and decision. Ferguson v. Board of Commrs., 110 Idaho 785, 718 P.2d 1223 (1986); First Interstate Bank v. West, 107 Idaho 851, 693 P.2d 1053 (1984); Olson v. Ada County, 105 Idaho 18, 665 P.2d 717 (1983); Nicholls v. Blaser, 102 Idaho 559, 633 P.2d 1137 (1981). A reviewing court may not reverse the findings of the administrative agency where the findings are clear, dispositive and supported by evidence in the record. Van Orden v. State Dep't of Health & Welfare, 102 Idaho 663, 637 P.2d 1159 (1981). Further, a "reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the administrative hearing officer on questions of fact." Id. at 667, 637 P.2d at 1163. The agency's findings are binding even where there exists conflicting evidence. Lampe v. Zamzows, Inc., 102 Idaho 126, 626 P.2d 782 (1981).

II.

Amendment to Zoning Ordinance.

The first question before this Court is whether the ordinance in effect on August 24, 1984, when the initial application was filed, or whether the ordinance as amended on May 1, 1986 is applicable to the proposed PUD. South Fork contends that the applicable and controlling ordinance is the one amended on May 1, 1986, because it was in effect at the time of filing the application for final approval. Although a majority of courts from other jurisdictions have adopted that line of reasoning and held that a change in the law following an application for a building permit will be applied to the application, 3 Idaho In Ready-To-Pour, this Court considered the issue and stated:

[117 Idaho 861] law is well established that an applicant's rights are determined by the ordinance in existence at the time of filing an application for the permit. Cooper v. Board of County Commrs. of Ada County, 101 Idaho 407, 614 P.2d 947 (1980); Ready-To-Pour, Inc. v. McCoy, 95 Idaho 510, 511 P.2d 792 (1973); Ben Lomond, Inc. v. City of Idaho Falls, 92 Idaho 595, 448 P.2d 209, (1968).

We consider first the threshold question as to whether the applicant's rights are to be measured under Ordinance 85 in effect at the time of the application, or under Ordinance 133 in effect at the time this case went to trial. Idaho has adopted the minority view that the applicant's rights are measured under the law in effect at the time of the application. See: McQuillin, The Law of Municipal Corporations, § 25.155 (3d ed.1965). In Ben Lomond, Inc. v. City of Idaho Falls, 92 Idaho 595, 601, 448 P.2d 209, 215 (1968), we stated:

"At least in those cases like the present one, in which no zoning ordinance was pending at the time an application for a building permit is filed, it is our opinion that an applicant is entitled to a building permit upon compliance with the then existing ordinance." (Emphasis added.)

95 Idaho at 513, 511 P.2d at 795.

In Cooper v. Board of County Commrs. of Ada County, 101 Idaho 407, 614 P.2d 947 (1980), we further reinforced Idaho's position with the minority jurisdictions that the ordinance in effect at the time of the application is controlling. On rehearing, we specifically addressed this issue and held that subsequently enacted ordinances would not be given...

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