from the Iowa District Court for Dallas County, Paul R.
City of West Des Moines appeals the district court's
ruling invalidating the ordinances imposing a connection fee
levied by the City.
T. Webber, James R. Wainwright, and Maria E. Brownell of
Ahlers & Cooney, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.
A. LaMarca and Ryan C. Nixon of LaMarca Law Group, P.C., Des
Moines, for appellee.
Charles F. Becker and Espnola F. Cartmill of Belin McCormick,
P.C., Des Moines, for amicus curiae, Home Builders
Association of Greater Des Moines.
Considered by Vogel, P.J., and Potterfield and Mullins, JJ.
heart of this litigation is whether a city can finance the
construction of roadway culverts by establishing a district
under Iowa Code section 384.38(3)(a) (2015), then collect
fees from certain properties within the district. The City of
West Des Moines (the City), enacted ordinances to allow for
this form of financing. Interchange Partners, L.L.C.
(Interchange) brought suit to contest the City's action.
The district court ruled in Interchange's favor,
concluding (1) the property does not have the required
connection to a city utility, (2) the placement of culverts
under the City's streets does not constitute a city
sewer, and (3) the connection fee is not equitably
apportioned among all persons in the district benefiting from
City appeals the district court's decision. As an initial
matter, the City claims the district court, and this court on
appeal, lack subject matter jurisdiction because certiorari
is the exclusive means to challenge the City's ordinance
and Interchange's failure to petition for a writ of
certiorari within thirty days of the enactment of Ordinance
No. 2117 is fatal. The City also claims the district court
erred in finding Ordinance Nos. 2024 and 2117 were illegal
because the City validly created a city sewer utility,
properties within the district have the proper connection to
this utility, and the calculation and apportionment of the
fee is equitable.Concluding we do have jurisdiction to hear
the appeal and the district court did not err in interpreting
Iowa Code section 384.38(3)(a), we affirm the district
Background Facts and Proceedings
October 14, 2013, the City approved and passed Ordinance No.
2006 "to establish the method and requirements for the
establishment of individual stormwater connection fee
districts to fund the design and construction of certain
stormwater drainage facilities on major streets." The
stated intent of the ordinance includes "to set forth
the method of recovery of proportional cost shares from those
property owners who develop property within the"
to Iowa Code section 384.38(3)(a), and after notice and
public hearing regarding Ordinance No. 2024, the City
established the Sugar Creek Stormwater Connection Fee
District on April 11, 2014. The ordinance requires payment of
the connection fee pursuant to the following:
1. For property being platted the fee is due and payable
before approval of the final plat.
2. For property subject to a site plan the fee is due and
payable before approval of the site plan.
3. For all other property the fee is due and payable before
issuance of a building permit.
were assessed to properties already developed or land
considered to be undevelopable. Possibly due to only a
portion of its property being located within the district,
Interchange was not provided notice of Ordinance No. 2024. On
October 5, 2015, the City enacted Ordinance No. 2117, which
properly notified Interchange and confirmed its property is
included in the district and, thus, subject to the connection
City intended to use connection fees from the district to
fund the construction of seventeen structures-mostly roadway
culverts-along natural drainage channels. The City
acknowledged the new structures will not increase or decrease
the runoff capacity from Interchange's properties, and
the new structures will not improve the storm water flow
capacity of the existing creek network.
October 23, 2015, Interchange challenged the enactment of
Ordinance No. 2117 "by and through Ordinance No.
2024" by filing a petition with the district court
pursuant to Iowa Code section 384.66(1) asserting its
"connection fee district" was wholly illegal, null,
and void under Iowa Code section 384.38(3)(a).Specifically,
Interchange asserted the improvements, to be financed by the
fees, are not city sewer or water utilities, Ordinance No.
2117 does not service its property because there is no
utility to which its property could physically connect, and
the assessment of the fees is inequitable across the newly
case proceeded to a bench trial before the district court
where the court ruled in favor of Interchange. The district
court held the City's Ordinances Nos. 2024 and 2117 are
not compliant with the Iowa Code because the property does
not have the required connection to a city utility, the
placement of culverts under the City's streets does not
constitute a city sewer, and there is no equitable