ZONING: Mulitple and successive rezoning petitions: HUME V. FRANKLIN COUNTY FISCAL COURT (SC 9/18/2008)

ZONING: Mulitple and successive rezoning petitions
Opinion by Schroder; Abramson conurs in result only; Minton not sitting
Date: 9/18/2008

In 1963, the Lexington-Fayette County Planning Commission, now the Lexington Fayette Urban County Planning Commission ("P&Z"), approved Sebastian’s preliminary development plan for 122 one-acre lots.  The development was located in zone "A-1," an area zoned for agriculture that also allowed single-family homes with a minimum of one-acre lots. The subdivision regulations at that time required final plat approval within 18 months of the preliminary plan approval.  In 1963, Sebastian obtained final plat approval for 40 of the homes, but then the 18 months expired.  In 1966, P&Z re-approved the preliminary plan and Sebastian obtained final plat approval for another 19 lots.

In 1967, P&Z changed "A-1" to "A-R" and increased the minimum residential lot size to ten acres.  Nonetheless, P&Z approved the addition of 11 one acre lots in Spindletop Estates in 1977, 3 lots in 1989, and 3 lots in 1996.  In 2002, Sebastian sought approval of the remaining 59 acres in the development.  P&Z denied the request because the original preliminary plan had expired and the current application did not meet the minimum lot size requirement of forty acres.

Sebastian appealed to Fayette Circuit Court, arguing that P&Z should be estopped from denying the subdivision plan.  Sebastian claimed that the history of approving other lots in violation of the regulations vested Sebastian with certain property rights.  The Circuit Court and the Court of Appeals upheld P&Z’s denial.

The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that P&Z was not estopped from applying the current regulations.  The Court held that equitable estoppel can be applied against governmental entities, but only in extraordinary situations.  Here, Sebastian had not relied upon the government’s actions to its detriment.  Rather, Sebastian’s own delay in development allowed for the new regulations to be implemented.  Further, the Court affirmed that an improper application of the law does not prevent a more diligent administrative officer from applying the law properly in the future.  In fact, the Court noted that the action would have been arbitrary had P&Z ignored the regulations and approved the subdivision request.

Digested by Samuel Hinkle


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