The Minnesota Court of Appeals decided Monday to uphold a district court's decision to dismiss a case brought by Steven Bystedt and Carrie Heikkila against the city of Duluth. The couple alleged that by allowing an 11-story office building with a public parking ramp to be built across the alley from their condominium at 414 W. First St., the city had eroded the value of their property.
Among other things, they claimed the project had deprived them of their harbor view, privacy and natural light. The plaintiffs also claimed the new office building resulted in increased alleyway traffic, noise, fumes and artificial light pollution.
Bystedt and Heikkila bought their condo in 2006 but moved out, turning their unit into a rental property, after construction of the Maurices Building began in 2014. They argued that the erection of the office building and parking ramp amounted to a public taking of their property and sought compensation through the declaration of an inverse condemnation.
In its decision, the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs were eligible to seek relief only for demonstrable harm that is "direct, substantial and peculiar to them, in that it differs markedly from the damage suffered by the public at large," citing Alevizos v. Metro Airports Comm'n (Minnesota 1974).
The Court of Appeals noted the city countered "that the appellants are unable to distinguish their unit from any similarly situated unit, and that their experience of general inconveniences related to living in downtown Duluth does not support an inverse-condemnation claim."
"The law compels our agreement with the city," the court concluded in its decision.
As for the couple's claim that the construction of the building spoiled their view and the aesthetics of their living space, the court agreed that "a property owner enjoys the benefit of 'implied easements for light air and view' over the public street abutting their property," citing Haeussler v. Braun (Minnesota 1981).
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While the same would apply for a public alleyway, the court wrote: "A property owner 'cannot object that (their) building is deprived of light by an erection on adjacent land (or) that a view from (their) premises is cut off thereby,'' citing McCarthy v. City of Minneapolis (Minnesota 1981).
Referencing the same case, the court said the restriction applies to obstructions "on or over the street or sidewalk in front of the property … thus cutting off their neighbor's lateral view of the street."
Because the Maurices Building "is located across the alley from the unit, and appellants have not claimed any impairment of their rights in the alley itself, appellants' claim fails," the Court of Appeals concluded. "The new building is on adjacent land, separated by the public alleyway and, therefore, appellants have not suffered an unconstitutional taking."