Maricopa Citizens Protecting Taxpayers v. Private Motorsports Group, LLC (12/4/2017)

December 11, 2017

Arizona Court of Appeals Division Two holds that a city’s issuance of a use permit is an administrative act not subject to referendum.

A company applied for a permit from the City of Maricopa to operate a motorsports facility on City land.  The land had initially been designated industrial under a zoning code that allowed the land to be used as a racetrack, but the City had since adopted a new zoning code.  Nevertheless, the City granted the requested use permit as allowed by the old code.

A political action committee then filed a petition seeking a referendum on the City’s decision to grant the permit.  The City Clerk determined that the subject matter of the petition was an “administrative” act not subject to referendum.  But in a subsequent lawsuit, the superior court held that the issuance of the permit was a “legislative” act subject to referendum.

The Court of Appeals reversed.  Whether an act is “legislative” or “administrative” depends on whether the act (1) is “permanent” or “temporary,” (2) is of “general” or “specific” application, and (3) “creates” or “implements” policy.  Here, the City’s issuance of the use permit (1) was temporary, because the City could have limited the duration of the permit and could amend the permit to impose a time limit, (2) was of specific application, because the permit applied only to a single parcel of land, and (3) merely implemented pre-existing policy contained in the old zoning code and unchanged by the new zoning code.  Thus, the issuance of the permit was an “administrative” act not subject to referendum.

Presiding Judge Staring authored the unanimous opinion.