Hamamatsu residents win rezoning challenge

Kyodo News

The Supreme Court decided Wednesday in favor of residents seeking to have a rezoning project rescinded by the Hamamatsu Municipal Government in Shizuoka Prefecture, tossing out lower court rulings that rejected the demand.

The latest ruling by the top court’s Grand Bench overrode a legal precedent it wrote more than 40 years ago that shielded rezoning projects in the planning stage from lawsuits on grounds that they only represent conceptual blueprints.

But administrative lawsuits aimed at halting such projects have been allowed in cases where, for instance, temporary substitute land lots were designated.

The decision will allow residents to challenge local government rezoning projects at an earlier stage and may have an impact on civic movements involved in similar cases.

The top court sent the case back to the Shizuoka District Court so it can deliberate the legality of the project.

Hamamatsu designated the area, duration and design for the disputed rezoning project in 2003. It was associated with rebuilding Kamijima Station, which is run by Enshu Railway. Some 30 plaintiffs, including landowners in the area, filed a lawsuit demanding the local government scrap the project.

Both the Shizuoka District Court and Tokyo High Court rejected the demand, citing a 1966 Supreme Court ruling that said, “A decision on a plan for a rezoning project only determines an abstractive blueprint and is not an ‘administrative action’ that may be subject to an administrative lawsuit.”

The plaintiffs filed an appeal, arguing they “would face restrictions in building or renovating structures in the stage of a decision being made on a plan.”

“If we bring a lawsuit after the project is under way, such as designation of temporary substitute plots, we cannot expect substantive relief,” they said in a statement.

The Supreme Court opens its Grand Bench, which comprises 15 justices, to render decisions on interpretations of the Constitution and changing legal precedents. The bench was presided over by Chief Justice Niro Shimada.