ILNews

Court reverses COA decision in zoning issue

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed that both the Board of Zoning Appeals of Evansville-Vanderburgh County and trial court were correct in denying the construction of a cellular tower that would be located too close to a residence under a county zoning code.

In St. Charles Tower, Inc. v. Board of Zoning Appeals of Evansville-Vanderburgh County, 82S01-0702-CV-69, the state's highest court yesterday overturned the Court of Appeals ruling that found the BZA's decision to deny St. Charles the special-use permit was not supported by substantial evidence.

St. Charles Tower, which constructs and installs cellular tower structures, wanted to build a tower in Vanderburgh County, where the county zoning code required St. Charles to get a special-use permit and variance from a setback requirement in the zoning ordinance. The BZA voted to deny St. Charles' application for the permit, and the company withdrew its application for the variance.

After the denial by the BZA, St. Charles filed a petition for writ of certiorari, judicial review, and declaratory judgment to overturn BZA's decision. In March 2006, the trial court affirmed BZA's decision. The Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, citing the denial by BZA was not supported by substantial evidence and remanded for a hearing as to whether St. Charles was entitled to the variance.

St. Charles argued that "substantial evidence" in this case is different from that usually employed in Indiana zoning cases because this case is subject to the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996. The TCA states any decision by a state or local government to deny a request to place, construct, or modify personal wireless service facilities shall be in writing and supported by substantial evidence.

Justice Frank Sullivan wrote in the Supreme Court opinion that the substantial evidence definition in the TCA is the same under Indiana law. Although the court agreed with the Court of Appeals in its analysis of the legal effect of the TCA substantial evidence test on this case, the Supreme Court found that the test was not met here and there is substantial evidence in the record to support BZA's denial of St. Charles' application.

Even though the area where the cell tower was to be erected was zoned agricultural, it was still near residences in the area. The setback requirement in a subsection of the county zoning code applies to all zoning districts where cell towers are permitted, not just residential zones. Also, the BZA requires any applicant seeking a special-use permit for a cell tower has to show the tower will be at least 300 feet from the nearest residence or two feet for each foot of height for the tower, whichever is greater.
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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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