On March 14, 2006 the Appellate Division Second Department rejected the issuance of a Negative Declaration under SEQRA in the case Matter of Avy v. Town of Amenia. In upholding the findings of the State Supreme Court, the Appellate Division found that by approving an amendment to the local zoning ordinance, which would have allowed an automobile repair service on a lot previously zoned residential, the Amenia Town Board, as lead agency, failed to take the required “hard look” at all the potentially significant environmental impacts.
Despite the fact that the Town Board spent about a year and a half “reviewing” this proposal the Court noted that the EAF for the project identified fourteen areas of potentially large impacts including removal of 1.65 acres of vegetation, 3000 cubic yards of material, storm water runoff, odors, noise and endangered flora and fauna. While the Board held public hearings it never required more than a revised Environmental Assessment Form (EAF). The Court found the Board failed to adequately address the potential impacts on a vital aquifer, the removal of substantial vegetation and the potential impacts upon endangered flora and fauna.
In the past courts have held that an EAF can provide sufficient information to allow a negative declaration in some circumstances. Yet, the clear message here is that, when there are multiple areas of potentially large impacts, it is safer to spend a year and a half preparing and reviewing an environmental impact statement than spending a year and a half trying to avoid preparing one. At the end of the day, the requirement of a “hard look” at environmental impacts before issuing a negative declaration is still the rule.