review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Story County, Michael J.
City of Ames's Zoning Board of Adjustment seeks further
review of a court of appeals decision sustaining Ames
2304's writ of certiorari regarding the legality of the
Board's denial of Ames 2304's permit for a proposed
interior remodel. WRIT SUSTAINED.
Hulett of Nyemaster Goode, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.
M. Updegraff, Brent L. Hinders, and Hugh J. Cain of Hopkins
& Huebner, P.C., Des Moines, for appellee.
2304, LLC (Ames 2304) filed a petition for writ of certiorari
after the City of Ames's Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA)
denied Ames 2304's permit for an interior remodel of a
nonconforming use residential structure. The proposed remodel
would increase the number of bedrooms while maintaining the
same number of apartment dwelling units, and the ZBA
determined the zoning ordinance prohibited this increase in
bedrooms because it would increase the intensity of the
nonconforming use. The district court annulled the writ, and
the court of appeals reversed the district court ruling on
appeal. The ZBA sought further review.
review, we conclude the zoning ordinance defines an
"increase in intensity" as an increase in the
number of dwelling units. Consequently, the ZBA erred in
denying Ames 2304's interior remodeling permit because
the remodel would not increase the number of dwelling units
in the structure. Therefore, we affirm the court of
appeals' decision, reverse the judgment of the district
court, and remand to the district court for entry of an order
sustaining the writ of certiorari.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
2304 owns the property located at 2304 Knapp Street in Ames,
Iowa. The property was originally built as a single-family
structure in 1910, and it was converted to its current four
one-bedroom apartment units in 1928. Two apartment units
occupy each floor in the two-story home. The property is
zoned low density residential according to the City of Ames
(the City) Municipal Code, which permits only single-family
detached residential dwellings with one dwelling per lot.
However, the property was grandfathered in as a legal
nonconforming use and has been operating as one since the
four-unit apartments were established prior to the City's
current zoning ordinance.
April 2016, Ames 2304 sought a building permit to remodel the
property's interior. Under the proposal, the first floor
would transform from two one-bedroom units into one studio
unit and one two-bedroom unit. Additionally, Ames 2304 would
convert the two one-bedroom units on the second floor into
one studio unit and one three-bedroom unit. In total, Ames
2304 seeks to increase the number of bedrooms from four to
seven while maintaining the same number of apartments after
the remodel. A zoning enforcement officer for the
City's ZBA denied Ames 2304's building permit on
April 19, noting the proposed remodel was not permitted
because the increase in the number of bedrooms constituted a
prohibited increase in the intensity of the nonconforming
use. The zoning enforcement officer informed Ames 2304 that
the permit for the proposed remodel could not "be issued
until the remodel reduces the number of bedrooms for the
property to not exceed the allowed four units and four total
bedrooms for the site."
2304 filed a timely appeal to the ZBA. The ZBA held a hearing
on June 22 and affirmed the zoning enforcement officer's
decision to deny the permit by a vote of three to one. In its
written decision, the ZBA noted that "the addition of
bedrooms has been in the past and is still considered to be
an intensification of such use." Additionally, it
concluded the change in the number of bedrooms in the units
"intensifies the site requirements for the property
requiring that additional parking be provided." The ZBA
determined the City's zoning ordinance "does not
allow increases in intensity for non-conforming structures
undergoing internal remodeling."
2304 filed a petition for writ of certiorari on August 23.
The district court conducted a trial on June 14, 2017, in
which Ames 2304 presented two arguments in support of its
request for the district court to reverse the ZBA's
decision. First, Ames 2304 argued the ZBA improperly
interpreted section 29.307(2)(a)(ii) of the City of Ames
Municipal Code. Second, Ames 2304 claimed the facts failed to
support the ZBA's finding that the proposed remodel would
increase the intensity of the property's nonconforming
use. The district court rejected these arguments and annulled
the writ of certiorari.
2304 filed a notice of appeal to our court on July 14, and we
transferred the case to the court of appeals. On appeal, Ames
2304 argued (1) the ZBA acted illegally in denying Ames
2304's permit for the proposed interior remodel and (2)
substantial evidence did not support the ZBA's
determination that the proposed interior remodel would
increase the intensity. The court of appeals concluded the
intensity of the property's use is tied to the number of
dwelling units. Thus, since Ames 2304 is not increasing the
number of dwelling units in the property, the court of
appeals determined the proposed remodel does not violate the
City's prohibition against an increase in the intensity
of the nonconforming use. Based on this interpretation of the
City's Municipal Code, the court of appeals also
concluded the ZBA's findings were not supported by
substantial evidence and the ZBA acted illegally in denying
Ames 2304's permit for the proposed remodel. The ZBA
sought further review, which we granted.
II. Standard of Review.
"review an original certiorari action for the correction
of errors at law." Vance v. Iowa Dist. Ct., 907
N.W.2d 473, 476 (Iowa 2018). A party may present a certiorari
action "when authorized by a statute or when an
'inferior tribunal, board, or officer' exceeded its
jurisdiction or otherwise acted illegally in executing
judicial functions." Bowman v. City of Des Moines
Mun. Hous. Agency, 805 N.W.2d 790, 796 (Iowa 2011)
(quoting Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.1401). "An inferior tribunal
commits an illegality if the decision violates a statute, is
not supported by substantial evidence, or is unreasonable,
arbitrary, or capricious." Id. "Evidence
is considered substantial when reasonable minds could accept
it as adequate to reach a conclusion." Vance,
907 N.W.2d at 476 (quoting State v. Garrity, 765
N.W.2d 592, 595 (Iowa 2009)). We are bound by the findings in
the record if there is substantial evidence to support the
inferior tribunal's decision. Bowman, 805 N.W.2d
at 796. Finally, "we give deference to the board of
adjustment's interpretation of its city's zoning
ordinances," but the "final construction and
interpretation of zoning ordinances is a question of law for
us to decide." Lauridsen v. Okoboji Bd. of
Adjustment, 554 N.W.2d 541, 543 (Iowa 1996).