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Special Permit Improperly Denied Based Upon Generalized Community Objections

The Appellate Division, Third Department, reversed the denial of a special permit for 48 affordable apartment units as being based solely on generalized community objections and unsupported by empirical evidence. In Matter of Kinderhook Development, LLC v. City of Gloversville Planning Board the Court found that, after the planning board issued a SEQRA negative declaration in which it concluded that the stormwater management plan for the site was adequate, the planning board then denied the special permit based upon objections from the neighbors, who expressed concern over stormwater runoff, but provided no expert opinion to support their concerns.

Noting that one of the planning board members stated: “people living in a particular neighborhood know more about the physical conditions of where they live than any experts brought in by an applicant,” the Court concluded:

“There is no dispute that petitioner met its initial burden of demonstrating that the proposed project ‘compli[ed] with any legislatively imposed conditions on an otherwise permitted use’ … While respondent thereafter remained free to evaluate the application and reject it ‘[i]f there [were] specific, reasonable grounds . . . to conclude that the proposed special use [was] not desirable at the particular location,’ its determination in that regard must be supported by substantial evidence in the record…the engineering evidence submitted established that the project would reduce the preexisting runoff problems and, indeed, respondent relied upon that evidence in issuing its negative declaration for purposes of SEQRA. Even assuming, as respondent argues, that its own negative declaration was not binding upon it in rendering its ultimate determination, the fact remains that the only evidence respondent thereafter received on the runoff issue consisted of the conclusory opinions of neighbors opposed to the project.”

The Court went on to note that the empirical evidence that there would be no increase in runoff remained unchallenged, except by the general concerns of neighbors opposed to the project.

-Steven M. Silverberg