Presumption of Correctness in Interpreting Local Ordinance

In Ottman vs. the Town of Primrose, the Ottmans bought a parcel of land that was zoned exclusive agricultural.  This zoning district also had restrictions on the ability to place driveways and residences on the parcel.  Initially the Ottmans began development of a tree farm.  However, after a few years they decided that they wanted to build a residence on the property, and applied for a driveway permit.  Citing a town ordinance requiring proof of agricultural income before a residence could be built, the town board turned down the application.  The town board interpreted their ordinance to require a showing of actual income.  The Ottmans argued that they didn’t need to prove actual income, only potential income.

 One of the principle holdings in Ottman was that a municipality’s reasonable interpretation of its own ordinance was entitled to a presumption of correctness.  The Court was careful to add that if the local interpretation would also be, in effect, an interpretation of a state law, then the local board was not entitled to a presumption of correctness, stating “A court should not defer to a municipality’s interpretation of a statewide standard.”

But, the court made it clear that “In situations where the language of a municipality’s ordinance appears to be unique and does not parrot a state statute but rather was drafted by the municipality in an effort to address a local concern, we will defer to the municipality’s interpretation if it is reasonable.”

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