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Court Overturns SEQRA Findings And Requires Supplemental EIS

After a seven year saga, the Appellate Division overturned the rezoning of a parcel which would have permitted a multi family development in the Town of Ramapo. In Matter of Youngewirth v. Town of Ramapo Town Board, the Appellate Division reversed the lower court, finding the review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was inadequate, thus requiring it to overturn the comprehensive plan amendment and the zoning that would have implemented that comprehensive plan change.

In discussing the SEQRA review the Court held:

“…the Town Board failed to take a ‘hard look’ at the environmental impact of placing the proposed development in close proximity to the existing Columbia Gas pipeline, and the combined environmental impact of the pipeline and the development together. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (hereinafter DEIS) contains only a brief mention of the pipeline which bisects the property, and Columbia Gas was omitted from the list of ‘interested agencies.’ In addition, there is nothing in the Town Board’s determinations that suggests that it considered these issues outside the context of the DEIS and the final environmental impact statement (hereinafter FEIS), and they are not discussed in the Town’s SEQRA findings statement. Thus, the record supports the petitioner’s contention that the Town Board did not take a ‘hard look’ at these issues or make a ‘reasoned elaboration’ of the basis for its determination regarding them…”

The Court then went on to discuss the criteria applicable to challenging a zoning amendment. The Court noted that such an amendment is a legislative act that may only be overturned by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the regulation is not justified.

”…when a plaintiff fails to establish a clear conflict with the comprehensive plan, the zoning classification must be upheld…”

However, the Court found that the zoning amendment was not inconsistent with the comprehensive plan, noting that inclusion of affordable housing was an appropriate goal and:

‘…as the petitioner points out, the subject property was not included among the list of those deemed ‘particularly suitable’ for multi-family development in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. However, the Comprehensive Plan stated that it was ‘likely that there may be other sites that meet the above placement criteria that [had] not been specifically identified.’ Since the Town Board left itself this latitude to identify additional areas in the future, the petitioner did not ‘establish a clear conflict with the comprehensive plan’ (Matter of Hart v Town Bd. of Town of Huntington, 114 AD3d at 683, quoting Infinity Consulting Group, Inc. v Town of Huntington, 49 AD3d at 814).”

Likewise, the Court rejected the claim that this was spot zoning because it only applied to the instant property. The Court found the zoning consistent with the comprehensive plan and compatible with other nearby uses.

Thus, the Court rejected the other contentions of the Petitioner. Yet, with the rejection of the SEQRA findings the Court had no choice but to remit the matter.

”Accordingly, the Supreme Court should have granted the petition and annulled the Town Board’s determination resolving to approve the findings statement pursuant to SEQRA for the proposed zoning change. In addition, since approval of the findings statement pursuant to SEQRA was required prior to amending the Comprehensive Plan or granting the proposed zoning change (see ECL 8-109[2], 8-105[4][i], 8-105[4][ii]; 6 NYCRR 617.4[b][1]-[3], [5], 617.7[a]), the annulment of the determination resolving to approve the findings statement pursuant to SEQRA requires the annulment of the determinations regarding the Comprehensive Plan and the proposed zoning change as well (see Matter of Land Master Montg I, LLC v Town of Montgomery, 54 AD3d 408, 411; Matter of City of Middletown v Town Bd. of Town of Wallkill, 54 AD3d 333, 337; Vitiello v City of Yonkers, 255 AD2d 506, 507; 6 NYCRR 617.4[b][1]-[3], [5], 617.7[a]). We remit the matter to the Town Board for the preparation of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the issues of the environmental impact of placing the proposed development in close proximity to the existing Columbia Gas pipeline, and the combined environmental impact of the pipeline and the development together…”

Steven Silverberg