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Applicant not entitled to conditional use permit just because it met factors

After receiving a favorable recommendation from the City’s Community Development Director, the City Council of the City of Creve Coeur (the “City”) nevertheless denied a conditional use permit to an applicant seeking to develop a certain parcel as a QT convenience store after a public hearing. The City’s process was a non-contested case under the law in that it included no formal proceedings or hearing nor a record to be made.

The City’s zoning code provided that the City Council “shall not approve” a conditional use unless it finds that the application and evidence presented clearly indicate that six enumerated factors were met, but that “the City reserves full authority to deny any request for a conditional use[.]”

The circuit court, after holding trial adducing evidence in favor and against the CUP application, found that the City's ordinances required the City to issue the CUP. More specifically, the circuit court found that, because there was evidence supporting the six standards in the City's zoning code, the City's refusal to issue the CUP was unlawful, unreasonable, arbitrary, capricious, and constituted an abuse of discretion. The Missouri Supreme Court disagreed and overturned the trial court decision saying that “[e]ven if there were evidence supporting the six factors in [the Zoning Code], the City still retained the discretion to deny the CUP” because the City Council reserved the right to deny any request and did not specifically state that meeting the six factors required a grant of the CUP. As such, the circuit court had wrongly focused only on the six factors in the CUP section of the zoning ordinance instead of applying the whole CUP section (including the reservation of the right to deny any CUP application), and therefore, had improperly disturbed the discretion of the City Council.

Although future litigants may plead their cases differently in light of this case, municipalities who handle CUPs as non-contested cases (i.e., without any formal hearing with sworn testimony) and that are interested in preserving maximum discretion in the decision as to whether to grant a conditional or special use permit might look at Creve Coeur’s code for guidance.

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