Zoning Board May Not Use Public Safety As Sole Basis for Interpretation

A zoning board may consider public safety when interpreting a zoning ordinance but must also look at the meaning of the ordinance, noted the Appellate Division, Second Department in Matter of Northern Dutchess Rod and Gun Club v. Town of Rhinebeck. The Rod and Gun Club sought to place trap shooting within 300 feet of a road. The local ordinance provides that if such uses are closer than 500 feet to the “property boundary” a variance is required. The Zoning Enforcement Officer determined that since the property was bisected by a road, the road was not the property boundary. Therefore the proposed use was not within 500 feet of a property boundary and did not require a variance.

On appeal by other property owners to the zoning board of appeals, the board determined that a variance was required and stated: “the issue of public safety takes precedence over the issue of what constitutes a property boundary”. The Appellate Division noted that when an ordinance is ambiguous a zoning board may take into consideration public safety in reaching an interpretation. Yet the Court found that in this instance there was a failure to interpret the term property boundary. The Court remitted the matter to the Zoning Board for further consideration