Statement Regarding City of Shorewood v. Guy Gerald Sanschagrin et al, A21-0992 (Minnesota Court of Appeals)

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently issued a ruling in the case of the City of Shorewood v. Guy Gerald Sanschagrin, et al. (A21-0992), which concerns the installation of a dock on a small-conforming lot on Lake Minnetonka. The Court of Appeals opinion provided that the dock in question is a lawful, non-conforming use.  The City will not appeal the ruling. Because this litigation has been the subject of much community discussion, the City wanted to provide some information on the origination and conclusion of the matter. 

The Sanschagrin and Cameron families approached the city, asking if the city could purchase the property in question, and the city agreed to sell the property for the amount that was equal to the back taxes owed on the property.  In agreeing to the transaction, and as was stated in the staff report for that item, the property was far too small for a house, and without a principal structure, there could not be an accessory use. City staff informed the residents that they could not have a dock.  Rather than discuss their opposition to the city’s code prior to the sale taking place or their belief that they could install a dock under the city code, the transaction proceeded.  To reiterate, the City entered into the transaction on the belief that the parties mutually understood and agreed that there would be no dock installed on this narrow parcel.  After they obtained ownership, the residents installed a dock.

The City issued a notice of zoning violation, and after a couple of years, the City issued a criminal citation that went to Hennepin County District Court.  That court ruled on a procedural matter and not on the merits of the case, which in turn forced the city to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, which ruled in the City’s favor and reversed the lower court decision.

The City then initiated a civil action for a permanent injunction as the residents again installed the dock.  The case went to Hennepin County District Court.   In a well-reasoned and thorough decision, the court ruled in the city’s favor and determined that a dock was not permitted on the property under the City Code adopted in 2006.  The residents appealed that decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which recently reversed the district court’s decision.  The City disagrees with the ruling and its outcome, but must abide by it.

The City believes that the intent of the 2006 City Code was clear and that staff clearly articulated the City’s position to the residents that City Code prohibited building docks on small, non-buildable parcels without a principal use, prior to the transaction.  Furthermore, the City believes that restrictions, which should prevent the installation of docks on lots where side yard setbacks are not met, are necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents accessing the lake from adjacent lots. 

Finally, the City Code of Ordinances, including its zoning code, is the primary tool for the establishment of rules and policies designed to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of all residents of the City of Shorewood.  The City believes adherence to these guidelines among its residents promotes neighborliness and community.  The City takes seriously its responsibility to enact reasonable regulations, review the clarity and consistency of regulations, and where necessary, to enforce the City Code to ensure residents are held to the standards adopted by the City Council.