Equitable estoppel did not apply in zoning case under facts and zoning action was arbitrary: Sebastian-Voor Properties, LLC, et al. v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, et al. (SC 2/21/2008)

Sebastian-Voor Properties, LLC, et al. v. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, et al.
ZONING:  Land Use Planning
DATE RENDERED:  2/21/2008
DATE RENDERED: 2/21/2008

In 1963 the Lexington-Fayette County Planning Commission (“Commission”) approved a preliminary development plan for 122 one-acre lots in an agriculturally zoned area. Only 40 of the lots received final plat approval within the statutorily allowed time. Another 19 lots received approval in 1966 after the preliminary plan was re-approved. In 1967, the zoning regulations were changed to increase the minimum residential lot size from 1 acre to 10 acres. However, over the next 29 years, the Commission, contrary to existing regulations, approved final plats for 17 additional one-acre lots.

In 2002, the property owner applied for preliminary approval for one-acre lots on the remaining 59 acres. The Commission denied approval because the lots did not meet the minimum lot size and did not qualify for septic service. The owner appealed and moved for summary judgment on the grounds of equitable estoppel, arguing that prior approvals created vested property rights. The circuit court denied the motion. The owner again appealed. The court of appeals held that while equitable estoppel may be invoked against a governmental entity under exceptional circumstances, the facts of the case did not rise to that level. The Kentucky Supreme Court granted discretionary review.

The Supreme Court affirmed, stating that the proposed development did not comply with the current zoning regulations so that the Commission’s decision to deny the plan was not arbitrary. It stated that the owner, to develop as proposed, must seek a zone map amendment. The court also affirmed the decision that equitable estoppel did not apply because a public official’s previous erroneous interpretation of the law does not prevent a later proper interpretation.

Digest by Sam Hinkle

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