City can define 'family' to support zoning restrictions: Iowa SC

Legal News Line Jul. 27, 2007, 7:11am

Justice David S. Wiggins

DES MOINES -- A city zoning ordinance that prevents multi-family dwellings in some neighborhoods does not breach the Equal Protection clause, a split Iowa Supreme Court ruled today. In Ames Rental Property Association (ARPA) v. City of Ames (docket# 05-0463) the Supreme Court affirmed, by a 4-3 margin, an earlier opinion by the Story County District Court. Judge William J. Pattinson ruled Ames's action was "rationally related to a legitimate government interest." The landlords' association brought action against the city zoning ordinance allowing only single-family homes to be built in designated sections. Ames is a university city experiencing an inflow of students into established residential areas. ARPA based its constitutional objection on the city's definition(s) of "family," one of which read "Any number of people related by blood, marriage, adoption, guardianship or other duly-authorized custodial relationship." But the Supreme Court noted the significance of the local legislative process in dealing with local problems. "It is the City's prerogative to fashion remedies to problems affecting its residents," wrote Justice Michael J. Streit for the four-Justice majority. "The court's power to declare a statute or ordinance unconstitutional is tempered by the court's respect for the legislative process," Streit added. "Under the rational basis test, we must generally defer to the city counsel's legislative judgment." But the three against, led by dissenting author Justice David S. Wiggins, contested the majority's conclusion that such a law is constitutional. He was joined in dissent by Justices Daryl L. Hecht and Brent R. Appel. The dissent states that the city's overly-specific family definitions are outdated and have been found unconstitutional elsewhere. "Today it is not unusual to see a group of unrelated single persons living together and sharing expenses," Wiggins wrote. "The simple fact is that in today's modern society the overinclusive and underinclusive examples identified in this dissent and by other courts that have found similar ordinances unconstitutional are closer to the norms than to the extremes," he added.

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