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Robert and Sharon Bruning on their property at 162nd and Fort Streets, which was a rural area when the couple purchased the farmstead 40 years ago.

LINCOLN — A family has lost its appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court over a decision by the Omaha Planning Board that their northwest Omaha farm was no longer being used for agricultural purposes.

Sharon and Robert Bruning have not ended their fight over the decision.

Last year, they filed a federal civil rights lawsuit, claiming that the city had violated their property rights by arbitrarily forcing them to make expensive changes in the use of their buildings.

The dispute has been over a small farmstead the Brunings purchased 40 years ago at 162nd and Fort Streets, which was then a rural area, far from the outskirts of Omaha.

The Brunings operated a seeding business in the farm buildings and other storage buildings they erected on the property.

In 2004, they sold the business.

The new owner rented out three buildings from the Brunings, who subsequently rented out the other structures to other enterprises for equipment storage.

Residential subdivisions eventually spread west, surrounding the Brunings’ property, and, in 2015, a complaint was filed about the use of the buildings.

City officials ruled that the couple had exceeded the agricultural zoning of the property, which prompted them to seek a zoning variance.

But that was rejected by the City Planning Board, which, after four public hearings, ruled that the use of the property had become commercial because the Brunings were renting the buildings to others. That decision was upheld by a Douglas County district judge, prompting the appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

The court on Friday upheld the denial of a zoning variance, ruling that state law gives planning boards wide discretion in deciding zoning disputes and that the board’s decision was supported by sufficient evidence, and not arbitrary.

“When the Brunings developed and began leasing the property to others, ultimately expanding to numerous separate businesses and uses, their activities became incompatible with agricultural use,” stated the 10-page ruling, written by Supreme Court Judge Lindsey Miller-Lerman.

The Brunings’ attorney, Diana Vogt, said that state law sets a high bar for overturning a zoning board’s decision, requiring a showing that the ruling was illegal or not supported by evidence.

In the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, the Brunings say the city keeps “moving the goal posts” and requiring new alterations to their buildings and property, and that reverting the property to agricultural uses, like a dog kennel or raising livestock, would be cost prohibitive and would prompt complaints from neighboring homeowners.

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

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