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Anderson v. Board of County Commissioners of Teton County

October 6, 2009

ERNEST AND MARTHA ANDERSON, APPELLANTS (PETITIONERS),
v.
BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF TETON COUNTY, WYOMING, APPELLEE (RESPONDENT), AND ROBERT AND GISELA BALTENSPERGER, APPELLEES (INTERVENORS).



Appeal from the District Court of Teton County, The Honorable Nancy J. Guthrie, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Waldrip, District Judge

Before VOIGT, C.J., and HILL, KITE, and BURKE, JJ; WALDRIP, D.J.

[¶1] Appellees/Intervenors, Robert and Gisela Baltensperger ("the Baltenspergers"), applied for and were granted the necessary permits allowing them to construct a barn/equestrian center on their property in Teton County, Wyoming. Appellants, Ernest and Martha Anderson ("the Andersons"), objected to the construction permits and appealed to the Board of County Commissioners of Teton County, Wyoming ("the Board"). After the Board affirmed the grant of the permits, the Andersons petitioned the district court to review the final administrative action. The district court affirmed the Board's decision upholding the grant of the construction permits. The Andersons now appeal the Board's decision to this Court. We will affirm.

ISSUES

[¶2] We re-phrase the issues presented by the Andersons as follows:

1. Whether Teton County's decision to approve the construction permits based on conclusory findings that the 6,750 square foot barn would be incidental, subordinate, and devoted primarily to the use of the property's existing 1,056 square foot residence, and would not change the property character, was arbitrary, capricious, and unsupported by substantial evidence.

2. Whether Teton County's approval of the construction permits violated the Teton County Land Development Regulations because Teton County previously found that the proposed barn/equestrian center would injure the neighborhood and violate private covenants, but refused to consider these factors in its final decision.

The Board and the Baltenspergers raise the additional issue of whether the Andersons properly raised the "conclusory findings" issue before the district court.

RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

[¶3] The Andersons and the Baltenspergers own adjacent lots in an area of Teton County known as Red Top Meadows. The Baltenspergers applied for permission to build a barn/equestrian center on their property and the Andersons objected. The Baltenspergers needed three separate attempts to obtain the necessary construction permits because their first two applications failed. Their third attempt, however, succeeded. Consequently, the Baltenspergers received a Building Permit and a Grading and Erosion Control ("GEC") Permit, giving them everything necessary to construct their barn/equestrian center. The Andersons appealed the issuance of these construction permits.

[¶4] The Baltenspergers own Lots 4A and 5 in the Country Estates Subdivision of Red Top Meadows. The Andersons own and reside on Lot 4B. The Baltenspergers initially proposed building a 9,300 square-foot barn/equestrian center on Lot 5. This initial proposal required three variances from the Teton County Land Development Regulations ("LDRs"). The Country Estates Subdivision is in the Neighborhood Conservation-Single Family ("NC-SF") zoning district, which would not allow the barn/equestrian center to be the primary use of a lot. Because there were no other buildings on Lot 5 the proposed barn/equestrian center would have constituted the primary use of Lot 5. Therefore, the Teton County Planning Department did not process the Baltenspergers' variance applications and the Baltenspergers withdrew that initial proposal.

[¶5] Next, the Baltenspergers proposed a 6,900 square-foot barn/equestrian center on Lot 4A. The Baltenspergers trusted that, because there was already a residential home built upon Lot 4A, the primary use of that lot had already been established and it conformed to the NC-SF zoning requirements. The barn/equestrian center would then be an "accessory use or building." This second proposal required one variance because the proposed equestrian center was only set back 25 feet from the private road easement on the property while the LDRs require at least a 50-feet setback. Thus, the Baltenspergers requested a variance in order to build their barn/equestrian center closer to the private road easement than the LDRs normally allow.

[¶6] The LDRs require a variance application to be heard by the Teton County Planning Commission (Planning Commission) and then be considered by the Board for final approval. For a variance to be granted, the Teton County Planning Staff (Planning Staff) must find that the proposed variance satisfies seven standards. The Planning Staff was unable to find that the Baltenspergers' variance request satisfied two of the seven standards, namely that the variance was not injurious to the neighborhood and that it was in harmony with the LDRs. Therefore, the Planning Commission voted unanimously against the Baltenspergers' variance request. Rather than pursuing their requested variance in front of the Board, the Baltenspergers withdrew this second proposal.

[¶7] For the Baltenspergers' third proposal, they decreased the size of the barn/equestrian center to 6,750 square feet, thereby eliminating the need for the setback variance or any other variance. On November 27, 2006, a Teton County Associate Planner approved the "Zoning Compliance Verification Checklist," which verified that the proposed barn/equestrian center met all pertinent standards in the LDRs. The associate planner also imposed several conditions of approval, most notably that "no commercial operation including the boarding of horses is permitted in the single-family residential site without appropriate County permits." The associate planner's approval of the "Zoning Compliance Verification Checklist" authorized Teton County to issue the Building Permit to the Baltenspergers. The Teton County Engineering Department also approved the Baltenspergers' GEC Application, which resulted in the issuance of the necessary GEC Permit to the Baltenspergers. Thus, the Baltenspergers possessed all necessary permits to commence construction of their barn/equestrian center.

[¶8] The Andersons then appealed the issuance of both the Building Permit and the GEC Permit to the Board. The Board held a contested case hearing on March 6, 2007, and affirmed the issuance of the two permits by written decision dated June 12, 2007. By way of summary, the Board found that the Baltenspergers' third proposal complied with all applicable LDRs and that whether the barn violates private covenants is an issue outside the purview of the LDRs and beyond the influence of the Board.

[ΒΆ9] The Andersons then sought judicial review of the Board's decision in the district court. The district court affirmed the Board's decision in full ...


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