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State ex rel. Stoyanoff v. Berkley

    Brief Fact Summary. The Architectural Board (the Board) in the City of Ladue refused to approve a building permit for a single family residence, which was unusual and “ultramodern” in design, but otherwise met all existing building and zoning ordinance standards. The Board had authority to approve plans which met appropriate standards of beauty and conformity. Berkley and other realtors (appellees) had been denied a permit by the building commissioner (Appellant) to construct the residence because of the Board did not approve of the design.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Aesthetic regulation by the Board was upheld as being in line with protecting neighborhood from adverse effect on general welfare and preservation of property values of a community. Not arbitrary or unreasonable use of police power.

    Facts. The Architectural Board (the Board) in the City of Ladue refused to approve a building permit for a single family residence, which was unusual and “ultramodern” in design, but otherwise met all existing building and zoning ordinance standards. The Board had authority to approve plans which met appropriate standards of beauty and conformity. The Appellees had been denied a permit by the building commissioner (Appellant) to construct the residence because of the Board did not approve of Berkley’s proposed design. The surrounding homes were of colonial and French provincial style architecture. Appellees sought to build a pyramid shaped house.
    In defense of the Board’s actions, the City of Ladue had claimed that unusual was an understatement and that a “monstrosity grotesque in design” was more accurate. An expert opined that the design and appearance of the home in question would have an adverse affect the property values of surrounding homes.
    Ordinance 131 said that appropriate standards of beauty and conformity were to be encouraged by the Board. Ordinance 281 required conformity with the customary architecture and style of surrounding homes. In addition, Ordinance 281 mandated that any home design must lend itself to proper architectural development of the city.

    Issue. Is the creation of the Board for promoting conformity of style and design authorized by the enabling statute?
    Is the creation of the Board unconstitutional as being an arbitrary and unreasonable exercise of the police power based only on aesthetic values?

    Held. The statute provides that the city’s comprehensive plan be made with reasonable consideration for things like “character of the district”, “suitability for particular uses,” and “conserving the values of buildings.” The Court found this was in line with the Board’s mandate under the ordinance.
    Given the traditional character of the neighborhood, the Court did not find denial of the permit arbitrary of capricious when the basic purpose to be served by the Board was the general welfare of the community. Allowing the Board to make a factual determination of suitability and potential adverse effect on the community was not an unconstitutional delegation of power.

    Discussion. The vagueness of the standards to be upheld by the Board would appear to be somewhat unpredictable in their application. However, the court decided it was tied enough to property values and the public welfare to not be arbitrary or capricious.


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