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City of Richmond v. Spangler Apartments, LLC

Court of Appeals of Kentucky

April 6, 2018



          BRIEFS FOR APPELLANT: M. Todd Osterloh Charles D. Cole Lexington, Kentucky

          BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Michael R. Eaves Robert V. Jennings Richmond, Kentucky



          NICKELL, JUDGE:

         The City of Richmond, Richmond Planning and Zoning Commission, and David Rush, Chairman of the Richmond Planning and Zoning Commission (collectively referred to as "the City"), challenge an order entered by the Madison Circuit Court granting partial summary judgment to Spangler Apartments, LLC ("Spangler") and holding the real property at issue is not subject to a land use restriction on multifamily development.[1] Following careful review, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.

         On June 9, 2006, Tom Harper, owner of a 97-acre tract of real property in Richmond, Kentucky applied to the Richmond Planning and Zoning Commission ("Planning Commission") for a zoning map amendment to change the property from agricultural to R-4. Additionally, Harper's application stated, "[a]ll of the property will be used for a single-family development in keeping with the goal of the multi-family housing moratorium currently in effect." After a public hearing (during which the restriction was again mentioned), the Planning Commission issued its Report with Findings of Fact and Recommendation approving Harper's application. In its findings of fact, the Planning Commission stated:

[T]he applicant's offer to restrict the property from multifamily use is in accord with the multifamily moratorium currently in effect in the City of Richmond and the goals of equalization of multifamily and single family housing promoted by the moratorium and stated as objectives in the comprehensive plan.

         Similarly, it recommended to the Richmond City Commission ("City Commission") the property "be zoned R4, with a restriction, as proposed by the applicant, that no part of the property shall be used for multifamily purposes."

         The Planning Commission's recommendation was presented to the City Commission, and after consideration, the City Commission issued Ordinance 06-30. Ordinance 06-30 does not explicitly approve any part of the Planning Commission's recommendation. Following a description of the property in Section I, Section II of the Ordinance instructs the Director of the Planning Department to make "appropriate changes" to the zoning map, without specifying what those changes should be. The preamble to the Ordinance explains Harper applied to the Planning Commission to change his property from an agricultural zoning classification to an R-4 classification, the Planning Commission held a public hearing, and the Planning Commission recommended approving the zone change request.

         Later that year, the property was sold to 876 Development, LLC, which became Meridian Partners, LLC. In 2015, Meridian Partners, LLC, entered into a contract with Spangler to sell a portion of the property. The contract was expressly contingent on the Planning Commission's approval of the plan for a multifamily housing development. Spangler sought approval of its development plan and minor plat with the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission held a public hearing on August 27, 2015, at which some residents voiced their belief the property was precluded from multifamily development. Regardless, the Planning Commission approved the development plan and minor plat, but David Rush, the Chairman of the Planning Commission ("Chairman"), refused to execute either. After approval, Rush learned of the potential land use restriction on this property, as detailed above. The City Commission then passed Ordinance 15-20 on October 27, 2015, explicitly adopting the Planning Commission's recommendation from 2006 and zoning the property R-4 with a restriction on multifamily development. The Ordinance states its intent to "correct the clerical errors and omissions of Ordinance No. 06-30[.]" Additionally, the City Commission filed a certificate of land use restriction in accordance with the ordinance with the County Court Clerk's office.

         Spangler then filed this action with the Madison Circuit Court, requesting the court to declare the property zoned R-4 without any land use restriction and order the Chairman to execute the development plan and minor plat. Spangler moved for partial summary judgment, arguing (1) the subject property was rezoned R-4 without restriction through Ordinance 06-30; (2) the Planning Commission's approval of Spangler's development plan was final and the Chairman must execute the minor plat; and, (3) the City should be estopped from arguing the property was rezoned with a restriction on multifamily development. In response, the City argued the subject property was always subject to the land use restriction after the rezoning in 2006, and thus, the Planning Commission and Chairman cannot execute a minor plat inconsistent with the zoning regulations. The City also argued equitable estoppel was inapplicable in this situation. Spangler filed a written reply, and the trial court held a brief hearing on the motion, at which it orally granted Spangler partial summary judgment. The trial court's written order entered May 2, 2016, found "for the reasons stated in the Motion there are no issues of material fact in dispute and that, as a matter of law, the Motion is granted." This appeal followed.

         The standard of review for a grant of summary judgment is "whether the trial court correctly found there were no genuine issues of any material fact and the moving party was entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Scifres v. Kraft, 916 S.W.2d 779, 781 (Ky. App. 1996); CR 56.03. Summary judgment "should only be used 'to terminate litigation when, as a matter of law, it appears that it would be impossible for the respondent to produce evidence at the trial warranting a judgment in his favor and against the movant.'" Steelvest, Inc. v. Scansteel Serv. Ctr., Inc., 807 S.W.2d 476, 483 (Ky. 1991) (quoting Paintsville Hospital Co. v. Rose, 683 S.W.2d 255, 256 (Ky. 1985)). Further, "[t]he record must be viewed in a light most favorable to the party opposing the motion for summary judgment and all doubts are to be resolved in his favor." Id. at 480. Because summary judgment only involves legal questions and factual findings are not at issue, "an appellate court need not defer to the trial court's decision and will review the issue de novo." Lewis v. B & R Corp., 56 S.W.3d 432, 436 (Ky. App. 2001).

         The questions involved here are: (1) whether the property was subject to a restriction on multifamily development through Ordinance 06-30, operation of statutory law, or Ordinance 15-20; (2) whether the Chairman is required to execute the minor plat after the Planning Commission approves the development plan; and, (3) if the property is subject to ...

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