A Davenport landscape business can continue operations after a ruling from the Iowa District Court earlier this week, court records show.

The ruling lists James Capranos as the plaintiff and the City of Davenport and Laura Berkley, development and planning administrator for the City of Davenport, as defendants, according to court records.

Iowa District Court Judge Meghan Corbin issued a ruling in favor of Capranos, who operates J.C. Landscape and Maintenance, 245 S. Utah Ave., Davenport.

J.C. Landscape (photo by Bryan Bobb)

J.C. Landscape has been operating a tree nursery as well as a landscape business from the site. Capranos’ attorney, Mike Meloy, said the operation was reviewed and approved by the City of Davenport in 2008. The city issued business licenses to Capranos every year since 2005, issued building permits for his on-site buildings in 2006 and 2009, and twice hired Capranos to do landscaping work for the city at Credit Island Park in 2020 and on West Locust Street in 2022. he said.

In April of 2021, the city notified Capranos that he was unlawfully operating his business at the site and ordered him to find another site for his business. “We appealed that order, first to the Davenport Zoning Board of Adjustment, and then to the Iowa District Court for Scott County,” Meloy explained.

The judge’s ruling found the city violated the Davenport Zoning Ordinance and that Capranos had a vested right to operate his business, Meloy said.

“After the zoning board’s adverse decision, we sought justice in the Iowa District Court for Scott County,” Meloy told Local 4 News.

“The District Court overturned the Board’s decision and found that Mr. Capranos has the right to continue to operate his small landscaping business at 325 South Utah Avenue in the Agricultural Zoned District, as he had done for the previous 18 years,” Meloy said.

The City hired J.C. Landscape to perform city landscaping work twice, including major landscaping work at Credit Island Park in 2020, he added. “The City paid Capranos more than $28,000.00 for landscaping work in 2020 and 2022, paying Capranos both before and after the City legal department declared Capranos was allegedly illegally operating in 2021,” Meloy said.

In 2008, the ruling says, there was an inquiry about the business use of the land then zoned A-1. The city planner investigated and noted “Among the uses allowed in the ‘A-1’ District … are ‘plant nurseries,’ ‘greenhouses’ and ‘truck gardening.’ While there is certainly room for argument I believe that a landscaping business is close enough to these other listed legal uses that I would be very hesitant to take the issue to court as a zoning violation.”

In 2019, the zoning code was amended and the property was rezoned as S-AG. “The amendments effectively altered many of the permitted use of agricultural property,” the ruling says.

In 2021 the city attorney sent Capranos a letter acknowledging the previous determination that his landscaping business was similar enough to a nursery operation that it would continue to be permitted, the ruling says. Capranos also was notified that since the 2008 determination, his tree removal services and snow removal services would not be permitted in S-AG.

On June 9, 2021, Berkley visited the site and saw rows of trees; bunkers with gravel, rock and mulch; a large gravel parking lot; a commercial trailer marketing J. C. Landscape and Maintenance services; a large metal building; and three Bobcats, documents say. Berkley issued a zone interpretation that the property would be considered a contractor shop and storage yard under the previous code, and that a tree and snow removed business would not be permitted uses of the property.

The court found that the tree and snow removal were part of the landscaping business in 2008 when the city initially approved the business as a proper use of agricultural land.

“The Court further finds the board’s conclusion that the tree and snow removal business would not be permitted in an agricultural district under either the pre-2019 or post-2019 zoning ordinance is not supported by substantial evidence,” court documents show.