Terrazas v. Blaine County

Decision Date15 April 2009
Docket NumberNo. 34106.,34106.
Citation207 P.3d 169,147 Idaho 193
PartiesEd TERRAZAS and Jackie Weseloh, Petitioners-Appellants, v. BLAINE COUNTY, Idaho, by and through its duly elected BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS, Respondent.
CourtIdaho Supreme Court

HORTON, Justice.

This appeal arises from a petition for judicial review concerning a county board's denial of a subdivision application. Appellants Ed Terrazas and Jackie Weseloh (Applicants) appeal the district court's order affirming Respondent Blaine County Board of County Commissioners' (Board) decision denying Applicants' subdivision application. We affirm the decision of the district court.


Applicants are co-owners of approximately 115 acres of real property on East Fork Road, 1.5 miles east of State Highway 75 in Blaine County, Idaho. In May of 2004, Applicants submitted an application to subdivide the subject property into the NoKaOi subdivision.

Because the proposed subdivision involved no more than four lots, the application was initially processed under the short plat subdivision procedures found in section 10-4-6 of the Blaine County Code (B.C.C.). The short plat procedures are a streamlined version of the standard subdivision application procedures. One of the unique features of the short plat procedure is that it allows an application to proceed directly to the Board for a final plat review without requiring a preliminary plat review by the Planning and Zoning Commission (Commission).

As part of the initial review of the NoKaOi application, Planning and Zoning Senior Planner Tom Bergin prepared a staff report for the Board's consideration. One of the issues addressed in Bergin's report was whether the areas of disturbance in the proposed subdivision fell within the Mountain Overlay District (MOD). Stated broadly, the intent of the MOD is to direct development away from the County's hillsides and mountains. B.C.C. §§ 9-21-1(A); 9-21-1(B). Bergin's first staff report concluded that the proposed areas of disturbance did not conflict with the MOD ordinance because they were located on a "bench slope" rather than a "hillside slope." Bergin's report also observed that his conclusion regarding MOD compliance was "of course subject to further examination by the Board." Applicants also claim that Planning and Zoning Administrator Linda Haavik advised them that she also believed that the planned building sites were not within the MOD because they were situated on a bench. Applicants maintain that they proceeded with their application — spending more than $50,000 in the process — in reliance on these opinions that the NoKaOi development plans did not violate the MOD ordinance.

On December 20, 2004, the Board conducted a public hearing on the proposed subdivision. Concerns as to whether the subdivision violated the MOD ordinance were raised. At the hearing, Bergin and Haavik reiterated their opinions that the areas of disturbance were not located within the MOD. Commissioner Wright commented that he had personally visited the site and found application of the MOD ordinance difficult. The hearing concluded with the Board's determination that, although the short-plat application process does not ordinarily require so, a thorough review by the Commission was appropriate to "further consider" the application.

The Commission considered the application and conducted public hearings on March 24, 2005, and April 14, 2005. At these hearings, the Commission considered Bergin's opinion regarding whether the MOD applied to the NoKaOi subdivision. As part of its review, the Commission conducted a scheduled site visit to view the property. At the Commission's request, Applicants staked and marked certain points on the property with storey poles. Following the site visit, the Commission rejected Bergin's interpretation and application of the MOD ordinance. The Commission found that the areas of disturbance on two of the four lots in the proposed subdivision impermissibly encroached upon the MOD and also violated the county ordinance restricting development on hillsides visible from Scenic Corridor 1(SC1) (i.e., visible from State Highway 75). Specifically, the Commission concluded that the proposed areas of disturbance were located on a "ridge of a hillside slope" and not a "bench slope." The Commission recommended that the Board deny the subdivision application.

The Board revisited the application in public hearings on June 28, 2005, and July 26, 2005. At the latter hearing, the Board voted to deny the application. The Board adopted the Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation of the Commission and, on August 18, 2005, the Board issued its own Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Decision denying Applicants' subdivision application. In its written decision, the Board specifically rejected the proposition that the MOD contained a "bench exception." The Board's written decision contained a lengthy explanation why its interpretation of the MOD ordinance, as applied to the NoKaOi subdivision application, was consistent with the Board's previous decisions involving other applications potentially involving application of the MOD ordinance.

Pursuant to the Local Land Use Planning Act (LLUPA) and the Idaho Administrative Procedures Act (APA), Applicants petitioned the district court for judicial review of the Board's denial of their subdivision application. The district court affirmed the decision of the Board. Applicants then timely appealed to this Court.


A county board of commissioners is not a state agency for purposes of the application of the APA in its totality. Petersen v. Franklin County, 130 Idaho 176, 182, 938 P.2d 1214, 1220 (1997) (citing I.C. § 67-5201(2)). In order to obtain judicial review under LLUPA, I.C. §§ 67-6501 et seq., there must be a statute granting the right of judicial review. Highlands Dev. Corp. v. City of Boise, 145 Idaho 958, 960-61, 188 P.3d 900, 902-03 (2008) (citing Gibson v. Ada County Sheriff's Dept., 139 Idaho 5, 8, 72 P.3d 845, 848 (2003)). Idaho Code § 67-6519(4) provides that "[a]n applicant denied a permit or aggrieved by a decision" may seek judicial review after exhausting all remedies available under county ordinances. The decision regarding a subdivision application is a decision granting a permit, I.C. § 67-6513, and is therefore subject to judicial review. Johnson v. Blaine County, 146 Idaho 916, 920-21, 204 P.3d 1127, 1131-32 (2009).

When an appeal is taken from the decision of the district court sitting in its appellate capacity under the APA, this Court reviews the Board's decision independently of the decision of the district court. Evans v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Cassia County, 137 Idaho 428, 430-31, 50 P.3d 443, 445-46 (2002); Price v. Payette County Bd. of County Comm'rs, 131 Idaho 426, 429, 958 P.2d 583, 586 (1998).

This Court does 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). Rather, this Court defers to the agency's findings of fact unless they are clearly erroneous. Castaneda v. Brighton Corp., 130 Idaho 923, 926, 950 P.2d 1262, 1265 (1998) (citing South Fork Coal. v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Bonneville County, 117 Idaho 857, 860, 792 P.2d 882, 885 (1990)). "In other words, the agency's factual determinations are binding on the reviewing court, even where there is conflicting evidence before the agency, so long as the determinations are supported by substantial competent evidence in the record." Price, 131 Idaho at 429, 958 P.2d at 586. Although interpretation of an ordinance is a question of law over which this Court exercises free review, Lane Ranch P'ship v. City of Sun Valley, 145 Idaho 87, 89, 175 P.3d 776, 778 (2007), "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." Payette River Prop. Owners Ass'n v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Valley County, 132 Idaho 551, 554, 976 P.2d 477, 480 (1999) (citing Howard v. Canyon County Bd. of Comm'rs, 128 Idaho 479, 480, 915 P.2d 709, 710 (1996)).


This Court will only overturn the Board's decision if we find that the Board's decision: (a) violated statutory or constitutional provisions; (b) exceeded the Board's statutory authority; (c) was made upon unlawful procedure; (d) was not supported by substantial evidence in the record; or (e) was arbitrary, capricious, or an abuse of discretion. I.C. § 67-5279(3); Price, 131 Idaho at 429, 958 P.2d at 586. Additionally, the Applicants must show that the decision prejudiced a substantial right. I.C. § 67-5279(4); Price, 131 Idaho at 429, 958 P.2d at 586. As the right to develop one's property is a substantial right, Lane Ranch P'ship, 145 Idaho at 91, 175 P.3d at 780, our focus will be on Applicants' claims of error.

Before the district court, Applicants argued: (1) the Administrator had final authority to make MOD boundary determinations; (2) because of Applicants' reliance on the Planning and Zoning staff's opinions, the Board is estopped from applying the MOD ordinance; (3) Applicants' due process rights were violated by reason of Commissioner Wright's personal visit to the site; (4) the MOD ordinance is unconstitutionally vague; (5) the Board's determination was arbitrary, capricious, and without a reasonable basis in law or fact and violated Applicants' equal protection rights; and (6) Applicants were entitled to attorney fees. The district court was not persuaded by Applicants' arguments and affirmed the Board's decision to deny the application.

On appeal, Applicants have presented the same arguments for this Court's consideration. We conclude that Applicants have...

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