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Prybil Family Investments v. Board of Adjustment of Iowa City

Court of Appeal of Iowa

September 5, 2013


Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Johnson County, Ian K. Thornhill, Judge.

Prybil Family Investments appeals the Iowa City Board of Adjustment's grant of a special exception, permitting Streb Construction Company to build a concrete manufacturing plant in the Scott-Six Industrial Park located in Iowa City.

Steven E. Ballard and Michael J. Harris of Leff Law Firm, L.L.P., Iowa City, for appellant.

Sarah E. Holecek, First Assistant City Attorney, Iowa City, for appellee.

Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Danilson and Tabor, JJ.


I. Factual and Procedural Background

This appeal concerns a special exception to Iowa City's zoning ordinances, which would allow the construction of a concrete wet batch manufacturing plant in the Scott-Six Industrial Park. The industrial park is situated in a "General Industrial Zone" as opposed to a "Heavy Industrial Zone, " such that a special exception is required to conduct activities that involve heavy manufacturing. As such, Streb Construction Company filed an application for a special exception on July 14, 2011, seeking to construct a concrete manufacturing plant. The application was filed with the Iowa City Board of Adjustment (the Board). The Board notified all property owners who owned land within 300 feet of the subject real estate. After a public hearing was held, the Board approved the special exception on September 14, 2011.

The appellant, Prybil Family Investments (Prybil), is a limited partnership that owns agricultural property located adjacent to the land on which Streb intends to build the plant. Prybil's land has been, and will continue to be, used for farming. It filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to contest the Board's approval of the special exception, claiming res judicata prevented the Board from considering Streb's application because a similar application was filed and denied in 1998. It also asserted substantial evidence does not support the Board's findings.

The district court, by agreement of the parties, considered the matter without oral argument. On December 10, 2012, it issued a ruling concluding res judicata did not preclude the Board from considering Streb's application. The court stated: "The 2011 case did not involve the same property, property owner, or application, and actually involved a different application, different apparatus/installation, different property, different applicant, and a different Comprehensive Plan." The court further concluded:

There clearly were substantial and material changes in the facts concerning the property from the time the 1998 application was considered until the time of the 2011 application was granted, such as the expansion of the industrial zone, the reconstruction of 420th Street, the plans for landscaping to screen industrial areas, and the plans for a park to buffer the industrial areas from the nearby residential areas. These were not factors considered by the Board in 1998. Due to the difference in issues considered by the Board in the 1998 and 2011 proceedings, the 1998 decision is not preclusive of the Board's 2011 decision to grant the 2011 application.

Accordingly, the writ of certiorari was annulled. Prybil now appeals, claiming the district court erred, as it should have found that res judicata barred Streb's application, and the Board's decision was not supported by substantial evidence.

II. Standard of Review

A party aggrieved by a ruling of the Board may petition a district court for a writ of certiorari, and the court will review the Board's decision for any illegality that may exist. Bontrager Auto Serv., Inc. v. Bd. of Adjustment, 748 N.W.2d 483, 490 (Iowa 2008). We review the district court's ruling on a petition for certiorari for correction of errors at law. Id. at 495. While we are bound by the findings of fact if they are supported by substantial evidence, we are not bound by the court or agency's legal determinations. Id.

III. Whether the Board's Decision was Precluded by Res Judicata

Prybil argues res judicata[1] should have prevented the Board from considering Streb's application, as an application with "the same property owner, or an entity on that owner's behalf, " concerning the same property, with the same issue of building a cement plant, was denied in 1998.[2] While the parties do not cite, and we are unable to find, any Iowa case law stating the concept of issue preclusion applies to zoning board determinations, a parallel matter was addressed in City of Johnston v. Christenson, 718 N.W.2d 290 (Iowa 2006). In Christenson, the Iowa Supreme Court held issue preclusion prevented the city from bringing a petition for a writ of certiorari appealing the board of adjustment's decision at the same time it was bringing an action for a declaratory judgment, considering the same issues were being litigated. 718 N.W.2d at 298 ("[A]n administrative adjudication by an entity such as the board of adjustment can have a preclusive effect in a judicial proceeding."). Additionally, section 741 of the second edition of American Jurisprudence Zoning and Planning states: "Res judicata applies to administrative zoning decisions in order to promote finality of decisions unless it is shown that there has been a substantial change of circumstances since the earlier ruling." 83 Am. Jur. 2d Zoning & Planning § 741 (2003). This section further states:

Res judicata is applied sparingly in matters of zoning. It applies, however, in cases where the following four elements concur in prior and subsequent actions: (1) identity of the thing used upon or for; (2) identity in the cause of action; (3) identity of the parties; and (4) identity in the parties' capacity.


We will apply the rule set forth in American Jurisprudence as it relates to issue preclusion, and employ the standard set forth in Christenson. For issue preclusion to bar a second application for a special permit, the following elements must be met:

(1) the issue concluded must be identical; (2) the issue must have been raised and litigated in the prior action; (3) the issue must have been material and relevant to the disposition of the prior action; and (4) the determination made of the issue in the prior action must have been necessary and essential to the resulting judgment.

Christenson, 718 N.W.2d at 298-99. However, if "there has been a substantial change of circumstances, " the concept of res judicata will not apply. 83 Am. Jur. 2d Zoning & Planning § 741.

Here, the 1998 application listed Hawkeye ReadyMix, Inc. as the applicant, James Souter as the contact person, and A.F. Streb as the property owner. The purpose for the special exception was to "Erect and operate a ready mix concrete batch plant." The property on which the plant was to be built was the "South 300' Lot 36 [in the] Scott Six Industrial Park, Iowa City, Iowa."

Streb's 2011 application listed Streb Construction Company, Inc. as the applicant, Steve Streb as the contact person, and Streb Investment Partners as the property owner. As the purpose for the special exception it listed "concrete manufacturing plant, " and under the section stating "Date of previous application or appeal filed" it stated "none." Lot 35 in the Scott-Six ...

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