Articles Posted in Zoning and Land Use Law

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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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The Appellate Division affirmed the reversal of the grant of a use variance for failure to provide evidence of entitlement to the variance. In the Matter of DeFeo v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Bedford, the Court found that the applicant had failed to provide any financial information to support the claim for a use variance. Once the use variance was overturned,the other approvals for the area variances, site plan and special permit were likewise vacated.

In addressing the deficiencies in the record with respect to the use variance, the Court noted to obtain “‘…a use variance premised upon unnecessary hardship there must be a showing that (1) the property cannot yield a reasonable return if used only for permitted purposes as currently zoned, (2) the hardship resulted from unique characteristics of the property, (3) the proposed use would not alter the character of the neighborhood, and (4) the alleged hardship was not self-created…'”

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The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal of an action claiming the denial of a variance for a church use was a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). In Andon, LLC v. The City of Newport News, the Court held that the denial of a setback variance to permit a church use did not impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of the church.

A congregation found a building for lease located in a commercial zoning district which permits religious uses, provided it meets the following requirements: Continue reading →

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The Appellate Division upheld a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) determination that the owner of property,  containing several retail stores, had failed to demonstrate the location at issue was used for retail purposes prior to a zoning amendment. In Matter of East End Holdings LLC v. Village of Southhampton Zoning Board of Appeals, the Court found  the ZBA had rationally concluded the evidence submitted did not support the property owner’s claims of a legal nonconforming use.

The buildings on the property were constructed in 1976. In 1982 the Village amended the zoning code to provide that no retail use could be less than 800 square feet. In 2008 the Building Inspector issued a violation for operating a retail unit of only 100 square feet. The owner appealed to the ZBA claiming that in 1999, when the property was purchased, an appraisal report and certificate of occupancy (C of O) showed there were seven existing retail locations on the property and one was 100 square feet. The owner claimed that the C of O and appraisal demonstrated  the 100 square foot retail space was previously in use and was therefore legal.

However, the Building Department file contained 1981 and 1999 surveys, with floor plans that showed seven stores, including a 100 square foot space that was not the space at issue. Therefore, the ZBA concluded the space at issue was not legal.

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The Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court and reinstated the determination by a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to deny area variances for an accessory structure in a front yard. In Matter of Kramer v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Southampton, the Court upheld the denial of area variances sought by the Petitioners, after they had completed construction.

Petitioners had constructed a barbecue, sink, cabinets, counter top and refrigerator in their front yard. When they subsequently applied for a building permit they were told they needed variances to permit what was essentially an accessory kitchen in the front yard. The ZBA denied the application finding: “…granting the requested variances would produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood, that the variances were substantial, that the petitioners could use a portable unit as a feasible alternative, and that any hardship was self-created (see Town Law § 267-b[3][b]).”

In reversing the lower court and upholding the decision of the ZBA the Court noted:

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At the end of June, lost among the headlines about other rulings, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a local sign law was unconstitutional. In Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 135 S.Ct. 2218 (2015) the Court broke new ground in interpreting permissible sign regulations.

In our article, published in the August 2015 edition of the New York Real Estate Law Reporter, we discuss the decision;and some of its implications.

-Steven Silverberg

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In a case primarily dealing with the authority of a Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) to interpret a zoning provision, the Court also addressed the issue of late filing of the ZBA decision. In the Matter of Stone Industries, Inc. v. Zoning Board of appeals of the Town of Ramapo, the Appellate Division held that the ZBA properly interpreted the ordinance as prohibiting the production of asphalt from recycled material where the language of the ordinance prohibited “the primary production of asphalt from raw materials.”

The Court noted:

“As a general rule, zoning ordinances are in derogation of the common law and must be strictly construed against the municipality….This rule is subject to the limitation that where, as here, it would be difficult or impractical for a legislative body to promulgate an ordinance which is both definitive and all-encompassing, a reasonable amount of discretion in the interpretation of the ordinance may be delegated to an administrative body or official….The interpretation of the zoning board of appeals or the official governs unless such interpretation is unreasonable or irrational….”

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The Appellate Division upheld a zoning board determination that the existence of a legal nonconforming use did not give the property owner the right to maintain a different nonconforming use. In Bradhurst Site Construction Corp. v Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Mount Pleasant, the Court found the Zoning Board of Appeals properly upheld the determination of the Code Enforcement Officer who had found that the use of the property for a maintenance garage and truck storage was not a permitted use.

“The Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Mount Pleasant (hereinafter the ZBA) determined that a use variance issued in 1931 to a prior owner limited the subject property to a specific use, i.e., a sand and gravel operation, which use was discontinued in or around 1950, and that the petitioner’s subsequent use of the subject lot as a maintenance garage and truck storage facility was a change to a different nonconforming use, rather than a continuation of an existing nonconforming use. The ZBA’s determination was not irrational and is supported by evidence in the record…. Furthermore, the petitioner’s contention that the respondents/defendants (hereinafter the respondents) are equitably estopped from prohibiting it from operating a maintenance garage and truck storage facility on the subject lot is without merit, as the evidence submitted by the petitioner did not establish that there were “exceptional circumstances” here involving wrongful or negligent conduct of a governmental subdivision, or misleading nonfeasance by that governmental subdivision….”

In addition, the Petitioner had argued that the Town violated the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) in failing to respond to a FOIL request for additional information concerning the property. The Court ruled the Petitioner failed to produce proof that it had followed the administrative appeal procedure and had made a timely written appeal of the denial of its FOIL request. Therefore, Petitioner had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies and was precluded from appealing to the courts.

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The denial of a special permit was found to be arbitrary when unsupported by empirical evidence. In Matter of 7-Eleven, Inc. v. Incorporated Village of Mineola, the Appellate Division reversed the Village Board and the lower court and remanded the matter for the Board of Trustees to issue a special permit.

The Court noted that during the hearing process neighbors and some board members expressed concerns over traffic and the clientele of the 7-Eleven. However, as part of its application process 7-Eleven submitted expert reports that there would be no adverse impacts upon traffic and offered to set conditions regarding the timing of deliveries and size of trucks used for deliveries.

Noting that there was no contrary expert evidence produced by either the Village or the opponents of the proposal, the Court outlined the criteria that should be applied in considering a special permit application.

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The Appellate Division overturned the lower court reversal of a zoning board of appeals (ZBA) decision for failure to certify the record filed in response to an Article 78 proceeding. In Matter of Robert E. Haveli Revocable Trust v.Zoning Board of Appeals of the Village of Monroe, the Appellate Division found that the lower court was in error by reversing the ZBA merely because the record of proceedings filed with the court was not certified.

“Since there was no allegation or indication that a substantial right of the petitioner was prejudiced by the lack of a certification, the Supreme Court should have disregarded the defect, and decided the matter on the merits (see CPLR 2001…”

The Court then went on to decide the merits of the case which involved a question of whether the use proposed by the petitioner was a permitted use or, as determined by the ZBA, a conditional use. The Petitioner proposed to operate a business offering tire sales and service. The schedule of uses listed retail sales and automotive repairs as a permitted use but sale and service of tires as a conditional (special permit) use. The Court noted the ordinance provides that in case of a conflict the more restrictive provisions govern and held:

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