Posted On: May 18, 2009

Courts Continue to Defer to Zoning Boards

In another in a long line of cases, last week the Appellate Division again deferred to the decision of a zoning board which had denied an area variance. In DiPaolo v Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town//Village of Harrison, the court found the zoning board had engaged in the required balancing test and therefore had acted appropriately in denying a request for a rear yard setback variance.

The court held the findings of the zoning board that the "requested variance was substantial and would produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood, and that the hardship to the petitioner was self-created, were supported by testimony of several local residents and objective and factual documentary evidence. Moreover, evidence was adduced that construction on the subject property might adversely affect protected wetlands and cause drainage problems. Contrary to the petitioner's contentions, the Board's determination was not illegal, had a rational basis, and was not arbitrary or capricious."

Posted On: May 11, 2009

Appellate Court Discounts Procedural Missteps by Planning Board in Granting Site Plan Approval

In a case involving a challenge to site plan approval for a Wal-Mart, the Appellate Division Fourth Department found a number of challenges to procedural/technical oversights by the planning board to be insufficient to cause the court to overturn the approval. In Matter of Residents Against Wal-Mart v. Planning Board of Town of Greece, the court found that the granting of site plan approval by the planning board was not arbitrary and capricious.

The decision lacks a great deal of detail but in a series of findings the court held: (1) the failure of the planning board to complete parts 2 and 3 of the SEQRA EAF was not fatal, because the planning board discussed “the factors set forth in parts 2 and 3 of the full EAF;” (2) the planning board complied with the referral requirements of General Municipal Law sections 239-m and 239-n, because there was no “substantial difference” between the materials submitted to the county department of planning and those used by the planning board for “final action on the application;” and (3) there was no error in issuing a conditional negative declaration for a Type I action under SEQRA, as “the conditions were not imposed in an attempt to avoid a determination that the project has a significant adverse environmental impact” and it was used only to address “aesthetic aspects of the project.”

Interestingly, the court made these findings after determining that the lower court was correct in holding that the owners of the property at issue were necessary parties and that the lower court was in error in dismissing the matter “without summoning those property owners.”

Posted On: May 7, 2009

Denial of A Permit Cannot Be Based Upon Community Pressure Rather Than Expert Opinion

A court reversed the denial of a wetlands permit based upon the conclusion that the Town Board “succumbed to community pressure.” In Matter of Moy v. Board of Trustees of Town of Southhold, the Appellate Division, Second Department, found the Town Board relied upon various reports and recommendations which were by parties either unqualified to render such reports or who failed to address the criteria required by the Town’s code in determining whether to grant a permit.

The court found that the Town Board “properly noted that when conflicting expert reports are submitted ‘deference must be given to the discretion and commonsense judgments of the board.’” Yet, the court noted that the Town’s outside consultant did not render an opinion about the impacts of the proposed activities but instead stated “it did not know what the impact would be.” The court held that this and other reports and recommendations either not addressing the impacts of the proposal or expressing “concerns” about the proposal were “devoid of scientific data or analysis” and were therefore “insufficient to counter petitioners’ expert’s report and testimony…”

The court did uphold the right of the town to retain an outside consultant and charge the consultant’s fees to the applicant, where the need for the consultant met the criteria of the town’s code for “independent technical professional assistance.”

Posted On: May 4, 2009

Acquiescence to Nonconforming Use Does not Render It Legal

The Appellate Division Second Department upheld the determination of a zoning board finding that maintaining a “hospice” for terminally ill animals in a home over a period of years was neither a customary accessory use nor a legal non-conforming use. In Matter of Marino v. Town of Smithtown, the court reversed the Supreme Court’s granting of the petition finding that the lower court had improperly “substituted its judgment for that of the Zoning Board.”

The local zoning code specifically states that animal hospitals are not permitted in residential districts and that any use not specifically listed as a permitted use is not permitted. The court held that nonconforming uses “may not be established where, as here, the existing use of the land was commenced or maintained in violation of a zoning ordinance” and therefore “the Zoning Board was not estopped from enforcing the zoning code…by the Town’s apparent acquiescence over a period of approximately 13 years.” In addition, the court noted that comments made at a Town Board meeting by the supervisor and town attorney concerning the operation (apparently supporting the petitioner’s contentions) were outside the record of the zoning board and therefore those comments could neither be considered nor used to prevent the Zoning Board from enforcing the code.

Posted On: May 1, 2009

Town May Purchase Property for Town Hall Which Exceeds Present Needs

In Matter of Potter v. Town Board of Aurora, the Appellate Division Fourth Department upheld a resolution by the Town Board, after completing a SEQRA negative declaration, to purchase and renovate a building for a new town hall. The court found that the claim that the town violated State Constitution Article VII section 2, because it was entering into indebtedness for purposes which did not carry out town purposes, due to the fact that building is larger than what is currently required for town purposes, was without merit. The court noted: the town may “erect a public building having in view future necessities, and exceeding the demands of present use” (Matter of the Mayor of the City of N. Y., 90 NY 569,591)”