Marquette City Council considers litigation against board of adjustment
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
At the city of Marquette’s regular monthly meeting on Oct. 15, attorney Jim Garrett outlined the city’s options after the Marquette Board of Adjustment (BOA) granted a one-year variance to the Luana Savings Bank for 118 and 120 North St. at its Oct. 4 meeting. This would allow the property to be sold as residential, rather than commercial, which goes against the city code.
“I know there is some concern as to whether this was the right decision,” Garrett said to the council.
However, Garrett said, the city’s options for recourse are limited. City councils are not authorized to overturn a decision made by a zoning board of adjustment. It is the only city board or commission for which this is the case. Although the state code says a council may ask the board to reconsider, Garrett said Marquette’s city code does not contain that reconsideration language, so the BOA will likely not be required to do so.
In that case, Garrett said the city’s only available option is to file a petition in district court asking the court to review and reverse the BOA decision. This would be a full-blown lawsuit in which either an individual or the council as a whole would sue the BOA. Garrett said the city should consider the legal expenses that would incur, including the possibility that the city would have to provide legal representation for the BOA.
Garrett said Luana Savings Bank would likely intervene on the side of the BOA, so their attorney may also play an active role.
If the council decides to pursue litigation, Garrett said there is a fairly good chance the city would win. There is a provision in the city code that prohibits the BOA from granting a variance that permits a use the city does not permit.
“The city is no stranger to litigation,” Garrett explained, “but it’s not up to me to bang the drum and say let’s go to court.”
He also told the council to consider how the BOA would respond to litigation.
“Who are you going to get on the BOA if you’re going to sue them and make them pay their own legal expenses?” he asked.
The council was conflicted over whether they should pursue litigation or not.
“People want businesses to come to town, but if the BOA says we’re going to use buildings for uses we’re not supposed to, then it looks like we’re doing nothing,” said Mayor Norma Mason.
Councilwoman Rinda Ferguson suggested asking local businesses to help make the decision.
“There has been a lot of chatter about us not listening to the businesses,” Ferguson said. “This would be a great time for the downtown businesses to get together and see what they think. We need input, so give us direction. This is not going to be the only case. Barr House Antiques and the Hair Hut are in houses. Lots of businesses are in houses or rentals.”
Councilman Jim Meana said that was a good idea, but questioned whether the business owners would be interested, as only one owner volunteered to be on the committee about chamber funding and tourism.
Councilmen Jason Winter and Tracy Melver also agreed that talking to the businesses would help them make a decision. Councilwoman Mary Jo Pirc was absent.
Garrett said there is a time limit of 30 days for filing the petition in district court following the BOA decision, so the council will have until Friday, Nov. 1 to make a decision and file the petition.
Mason said a meeting time will be set to see if any business owners are interested.
“It’s not a personal thing,” Mason said of the proceedings, “but what can we do? When talking to board members, it seems that the more we use and apply the code to be consistent, the more pitfalls we find. We have to test them.”
City Manager Dean Hilgerson said he will determine budget costs for a riverfront park shelter and sidewalk and parking lot additions recently proposed by the dock commission.
Hilgerson said the proposed shelter will be a 24-foot by 30- foot metal shelter with a hip style roof. There will be no open beams or structures, so birds will not be able to build nests. The parking lot will be extended 25 feet.
Hilgerson said the shelter and concrete work will likely be separate projects, thus eliminating the need for bid letting.
“The dock commission is really excited about getting this shelter because there hasn’t been one down there in years,” Hilgerson said. “Way back when, when the shelter was removed, it was supposed to be replaced, so it’s about time it’s getting done.”
The Holiday Train is scheduled to stop in Marquette on Tuesday, Dec. 10, between 5 and 5:30 p.m. Throughout the visit, the Marquette Community Center will have hot chocolate and cookies. A video from the Iowa League of Cities Conference—where Marquette won its All-Star Community Award—will also be playing.