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Legal nullity sends zoning decision back to BZA

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a matter brought by the owners of a cottage on Lake Gage in Steuben County be remanded to the Steuben County Board of Zoning Appeals because the BZA’s decision granting the homeowners a development standards variance with a void condition was a legal nullity.

In James Mies and Janice Mies v. Steuben County Board of Zoning Appeals, 76A03-1112-PL-564, the COA affirmed the decision of the trial court.

After a contractor hired by the Mieses failed to obtain the necessary permits for a new deck and stairs, he attempted to remedy the situation by seeking a post-construction variance for the newly constructed deck and stairs because neither complied with a zoning ordinance requiring a 24-foot lakefront setback.

The Board of Zoning Appeals approved the variance for the stairs with the condition that the deck had to be brought into compliance with the 24-foot setback. The homeowners refused to comply, arguing that the board lacked statutory authority to impose conditions on the variance, which made the condition void or, in the alternative, that the newly constructed deck and stairs did not violate the zoning ordinance because it maintained its nonconforming status.

The trial court reversed the BZA decision, remanding the case to the BZA after concluding that the BZA decision granting the Mieses a development standards variance with a void condition was a legal nullity.

In their appeal, the Mieses argued that the underlying variance and void condition are severable and that the trial court should have upheld the underlying variance while voiding the condition. They further argued that even if the trial court didn’t err in voiding their variance, it erred by concluding that a deck that was attached to their cottage had lost its status as a nonconforming structure that is exempt from the development standards ordinances.

The BZA cross-appealed, arguing that the trial court elevated form over substance when it concluded that the board imposed an unauthorized condition on the Mieses’ variance. The BZA also contended that the Mieses consented to the condition by not objecting to it.

“Concluding that the Mieses did not consent to the unauthorized condition, that the underlying variance is not severable from the void condition, making the BZA’s entire decision a legal nullity, and that the Mieses’ new deck lost its nonconforming status and is no longer exempted from the zoning ordinances, we affirm the decision of the trial court,” Judge John Baker wrote.

 

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