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The Appellate Division held that a 2-2 vote by members of a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) regarding a special permit application, unlike a tie vote for other applications, was not an automatic denial of the special permit application. In Matter of  Alper Restaurant, Inc. v. Town of Copake Zoning Board of Appeals, the Court found, due to the fact that approval of a special permit is original as opposed to appellate jurisdiction of a ZBA, the rule that a tie vote constitutes an automatic denial is not applicable in this case.

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The New York State  Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has proposed the first major changes in the implementing regulations for the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) in two decades.  The proposed amended regulations, if adopted, will bring about a number of procedural changes intended to streamline the SEQRA process.

 Most significant is the increase in “Type II Actions” that are exempt from environmental review. The additions to the Type II list include, among other activities:

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The Appellate Division upheld a Supreme Court determination granting summary judgment against a not for profit religious corporation seeking a real property tax exemption on property it owns and uses for religious purposes. In Congregation Ateres Yisroel v. Town of Ramapo, the Court held that the failure of the religious corporation to obtain permits for the occupancy of structures on the property precluded the granting of a tax exemption.

The property at issue was originally granted a certificate of occupancy as a single family residence in 1954. Sometime thereafter, the property was acquired by the not for profit religious corporation. From 2008 through 2011 the property was granted a real estate tax exemption by the Town. The decision does not explain why the exemption was issued or exactly what changed. However, in 2012 when an application for renewal of the exemption was submitted, the Town denied the renewal of the tax exemption. The Corporation commenced this action challenging the denial and the Supreme Court granted the Town’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the claim.

In upholding the decision of the lower court, the Appellate Division determined, despite the fact that the Corporation met the criteria for a not for profit religious corporation and owned the property at issue, the lack of zoning compliance precludes a tax exemption.

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The Appellate Division found the challenge to the approval of a 150 foot tall wireless telecommunications tower had been rendered moot due to completion of construction. In the Matter of Buren v. Town Board of the Town of Kent, the Court found the Petitioner had failed to seek a temporary restraining order prior to the applicant’s completion of construction and therefore the appeal was moot.

Homeland Towers LLC. applied for permission to construct a 150 foot tall tower for wireless telecommunications. The Town Board granted approval and the Petitioner brought an Article 78 proceeding to appeal the approval. Thereafter, the lower court denied the Article 78 petition. Petitioner appealed the dismissal of the Article 78 proceeding to the Appellate Division. While the appeal was pending, Homeland Towers LLC. moved to dismiss the appeal as academic, in light of the fact that the tower had been completed while the litigation was pending. The Appellate Division deferred action on the motion until the appeal was heard.

In its decision the Court reviewed the status of the law on the question of mootness.

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The Appellate Division determined that a homeless shelter operated by a church complies with zoning that limited permitted uses to single family homes and houses of worship. In Matter of Sullivan v. The Board of Zoning Appeals of the City of Albany, the Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed the Supreme Court and held that operating a shelter for the homeless in a church parsonage meets the definition of house of worship, as a use permitted in the local zoning code.

The subject church and the Petitioner, who resides on an adjacent parcel, are in a zoning district permitting single family detached homes and houses of worship. A house of worship is defined in the zoning code as “[a] structure or part of a structure used for worship or religious ceremonies.” The term worship is not defined in the zoning code.  The church inquired of the City if providing housing for up to 14 homeless individuals in the parsonage, which shares a parcel with the church, would be permitted. An opinion was issued stating that the use is not permitted. The church appealed to the zoning board seeking an interpretation of the zoning code.

After holding hearings, the zoning board concluded that the proposed use is “consistent” with a house of worship. Petitioner then brought this article 78 proceeding challenging the determination. The Supreme Court concluded “the proposed use of the parsonage could not reasonably be interpreted as a ‘house of worship’ as such term is defined in the Code…”.

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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a summary order denying an appeal from a decision dismissing the claim of regulatory taking, by a property owner whose property was not placed in any zoning district. In the case of BT Holdings, LLC v Village of Chester, the Circuit Court found that the District Court properly dismissed the claim, pursuant to 42 USC §1983, as there had not been a final determination with respect to whether the property owner could utilize its property.

Plaintiff’s property had been annexed from the Town of Chester to the Village of Chester. After the annexation, the Village of Chester failed to place the property in a zoning district. Due to the lack of zoning designation, the Plaintiff could not apply for site plan or other approvals necessary to develop Plaintiff’s property. As a result, Plaintiff commenced this action claiming a regulatory taking.

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The Appellate Division held that a zoning board exceeded its authority when it placed a five year term limit on a permit. In Matter of Citrin v. Board of Zoning and Appeals of the Town of North Hempstead, the Court overturned the lower court, finding that the Board of Zoning and Appeals (“Zoning Board”)  lacked specific authority in the Town Zoning Code to place time limits on permits issued by the Zoning Board.

Section 70-225 of the local Zoning Code provides:

” E. Permit a use authorized on a portion of a lot in a lower restricted district to extend to the entire lot, but not more than 50 feet beyond the boundary line of the higher restricted district in a case where a use district boundary line divides a lot in a single ownership at the effective date of this chapter.”

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The Appellate Division determined that the names and email addresses of those who subscribe to an email alert system of updates to a  Town Website are subject to the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). In Matter of Livson v. Town of Greenburgh, the Court affirmed the lower court determination that the Petitioner, who is the president of a local civic association, is entitled to the names and email addresses of those subscribing to the alert system maintained by the Town (gblist). The Court found the list was not, as the Town claimed, protected by any of the exemptions from disclosure contained in the FOIL statute.

Prior to the commencement of the Article 78 proceeding, The Town had claimed ” [t]here is neither a print or extract function on the software that can reasonably create a list of email addresses.” Yet, it was determined that the Town’s vendor could provide such a list.  As a result, the lower court determined that the request for an electronic version of the list could be made available provided the recipient did “not reproduce, redistribute or circulate the gblist or use the information contained therein for solicitation, fund-raising or any commercial purpose.”  The Town filed an appeal claiming that the list was exempt from disclosure.

In affirming the lower court, the Appellate Division noted:

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     The  Second Circuit Court of Appeals partially reversed the dismissal of a Fair Housing Act (FHA) claim which arose when a Town granted permission to modify a property in order to accommodate a disabled child, with the requirement that the property be restored when the child no longer resided there.  In Austin v. Town of Farmington, the Court held that the district court had improperly dismissed the claim of of violation of the FHA, as on its face the complaint raised issues that could only be determined by a further review of the evidence.
     The Plaintiffs had purchased a home in a location which did not permit fences or pools. They sought an accommodation from the Town. for their disabled child, to allow a fence for reasons of safety and an above ground pool and deck, which would provide certain health benefits.  The Town granted what is referred to in the decision as a variance, but was issued by the Town Board rather than a zoning board of appeals. The “variance” required that at such time as the child no longer resided in the house, the fence, deck and pool would have to be removed.  This provision referred to by the Court as the “Restoration Provision” would ultimately cost an amount estimated as exceeding $6,000.

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The New York Court of Appeals restated the rule that construction pursuant to a permit issued in error does not bestow any rights to maintain the structure or use. In Matter of Perlbinder Holdings, LLC v. Srinivasan, the Court held, because the permit on which the property owner relied was invalid, no common law vested rights could be obtained.

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