State ex rel. Stoyanoff v. Berkeley
458 S.W.2d 305 (1970)

  • Stoyanoff wanted to build a house in Ladue, Missouri.
    • The house was “unusual in design,” but met all of the existing building and zoning regulations.
  • Ladue’s “Architectural Board” (led by Berkeley) denied Stoyanoff’s building permit on the grounds that the design was too outlandish. Stoyanoff sued.
    • Stoyanoff argued that he had been denied due process.
      • Stoyanoff argued his case under the Missouri State Constitution, not the 14th Amendment.
      • Stoyanoff wanted to keep this under State law, probably the US Supreme Court had already held in Berman v. Parker that aesthetic zoning ordinances were legal. Stoyanoff would have lost if he went there.
    • Stoyanoff also argued that, even if aesthetic zoning were constitutional, the Missouri had never explicitly authorized cities to make these kind of zoning laws.
    • Stoyanoff also argued that it was not constitutional (under State law) for the city government to delegate their authority to a non-elected, private body such as the Architectural Board.
      • At least not without giving the Board very specific standards.
    • Berkeley argued that having a “monstrosity of grotesque design” would seriously impair property values in the neighborhood.
  • The Trial Court found for Stoyanoff. Berkeley appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the city ordinances were unconstitutional because they were vague and provide no standard or uniform rule by which to guide the architectural board.
  • The Missouri Supreme Court reversed.
    • The Missouri Supreme Court found that the ordinances provided for clear rules, and that the purpose of the ordinance was to increase property values. Therefore they were not an improper delegation of authority.
      • Therefore they fell under the general enabling law that allowed for zoning.
    • The Court found that that there was sufficient due process.
  • Basically, this case turned on the idea of protecting property values, not on whether it a zoning board should have the power to tell people that their buildings were too ugly to be allowed in the neighborhood.
  • If bad smells and loud noises can be considered nuisances and stopped by law, why not unsightly buildings too?
    • In all cases, there is a subjective standard for what constitutes a nuisance.
    • Zoning laws have been held constitutional under the police power as a form of nuisance control.
  • Different Courts have ruled different ways on this issue. Some States have held that zoning laws can be based solely on aesthetic considerations, other States (like Missouri) require that there be some other consideration in addition to aesthetics. Pennsylvania doesn’t like aesthetic zoning laws at all.
  • This is a good case for law students, because it gives a feeling for how internal State separation of powers issues work. That’s not in a typical 1L curriculum.