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City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, Inc

    Brief Fact Summary. In this case Respondent sought to have a parcel of property rezoned from “light industrial” to permit the construction of a high-rise multi-family apartment building. The application for rezoning was in the process of approval when the voters of the City of Eastlake amended the city charter to require land use changes to be ratified by 55% of the voters to become effective.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. As a basic instrument of democratic government, the referendum process does not, in itself, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when applied to a rezoning ordinance.

    Facts. In this case Respondent sought to have a parcel of property rezoned from “light industrial” to permit the construction of a high-rise multi-family apartment building. The application for rezoning was in the process of approval when the voters of the City of Eastlake amended the city charter to require land use changes to be ratified by 55% of the voters to become effective. In May 1971, Respondent applied to the City Planning Commission for a zoning change to permit the construction of the apartment building. The Planning Commission recommended the proposed change to the City Council, which under the old procedures could either accept or reject the Planning Commission’s recommendation. In the meantime, by popular vote, the voters of Eastlake voted to amend the city charter to require 55% voter approval in a referendum before any changes can be made to land use. The City Council approved the Planning Commission’s recommendation for reclassification of Respondent’s property. Res
    pondent then applied to the Planning Commission for “parking and yard” approval for the proposed building. The Commission rejected the application on the basis that the rezoning had not been submitted to the voters for ratification. Respondent then filed a state court action seeking a declaratory judgment declaring the amended charter provision invalid as an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority to the people. While the lawsuit was pending, the City Council’s action was submitted to a referendum, but the proposed change fell short of the required 55%. After the election the trial court and the Court of Appeals of Ohio sustained the amended charter provision. The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed by concluding that the enactment of zoning regulations is a legislative function. The Supreme Court of Ohio held that the popular referendum lacked standards to guide the decision of the people and was thus arbitrary and capricious. The City appealed.

    Issue. Does the city charter provision requiring proposed land use changes to be ratified by 55% of the voters violate the due process rights of a landowner who applies for a zoning change?

    Held. No. Reversed.
    The referendum is a power reserved by the people in the Ohio State Constitution, and as such is only required to be within the scope of legislative power to be valid.
    Because the referendum is a power reserved in the people and not delegated, the power is not subject to the requirements of standards, which attend a delegation of power from a legislative body to a regulatory body.
    The Court notes the precedent of Euclid v. Ambler, which held that a property owner can challenge a restriction if the measure is clearly arbitrary and unreasonable, having no substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare. If the result of the referendum is arbitrary and capricious, bearing no relation to the police power, then the fact that the voters of Eastlake wish it so would not save the restriction.
    The Court notes that the present case is not like the Euclid v. Ambler case, in that the present restriction is not challenged as being arbitrary and capricious and bearing no relation to the police power.
    As a basic instrument of democratic government, the referendum process does not, in itself, violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment when applied to a rezoning ordinance.

    Dissent. There are two dissents:
    The referendum here as applied to one person (or “spot” referendum) is fundamentally unfair as it affords no due process or opportunity to be heard for the person whose property is affected.
    The problem in these cases may be a three-sided dispute involving a conflict between the rights of the property owner and the rights of his neighbors, or a conflict with the public interest in preserving the city’s basic zoning plan. The referendum is okay in the latter conflict, but not fair as applied to a “private” conflict.

    Discussion. Note the effect of the “reservation” of the referendum power in the people by the Ohio State Constitution. The entire case turned on that reservation as opposed to delegation. Plus, the Court seemed to be interested in upholding the democratic proc


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