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.”