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Court Finds Property Owner Impacted By Local Law Lacked Standing To Challenge The Law

In a decision that reiterated the need for there to be other than economic impacts to a property owner to serve as a basis for challenging the environmental review of a local law or ordinance, the Appellate Division affirmed the lower court dismissal of a challenge to a zoning amendment. In the case, Matter of 1160 Mamaroneck Avenue Corp. v City of White Plains, the Appellate Division Second Department upheld the lower court decision dismissing the challenge to an amendment of the local zoning regulations and modified the lower court decision by affirmatively stating that the local law is valid.

Petitioner/Plaintiff (hereafter “Petitioner”) in this hybrid proceeding owns property in a residential district of the City of White Plains.  Petitioner maintains a non-conforming use on its property consisting of a nursery. As part of the nonconforming use, Petitioner processes various materials such as soil, wood chips and mulch.  The City undertook a review of those uses which included a proposed amendment to the City’s zoning regulations. The amendment was subject to review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act   (SEQRA) as a Type I action. After conducting an environmental review, the City issued a negative declaration. The City Council “upon determining that processing activities had various harmful effects that were incompatible within residential districts, adopted amendments to the City’s zoning ordinance (hereinafter the zoning amendments) which ban processing activities by nurseries located within a residential district.”

Petitioner brought this hybrid action seeking to overturn the SEQRA negative declaration and challenging the constitutionality of the zoning amendments. In affirming the lower court’s determination the Appellate Division found, with respect to the SEQRA challenge pursuant to Article 78 of the CPLR:

“‘To establish standing under SEQRA, a petitioner must show (1) an environmental injury that is in some way different from that of the public at large, and (2) that the alleged injury falls within the zone of interests sought to be protected or promoted by SEQRA’ (Matter of Tuxedo Land Trust, Inc. v Town Bd. of Town of Tuxedo, 112 AD3d 726, 727-728). Further, to qualify for standing to raise a SEQRA challenge, a party must demonstrate that it will suffer an injury that is environmental and not solely economic in nature (see Matter of County Oil Co., Inc. v New York City Dept. of Envtl. Protection, 111 AD3d 718, 719). Economic injury is not by itself within the zone of interests which SEQRA seeks to protect (see Society of Plastics Indus. v County of Suffolk, 77 NY2d at 777; Matter of Mobil Oil Corp. v Syracuse Indus. Dev. Agency, 76 NY2d 428, 433; Matter of Board of Fire Commrs. of the Fairview Fire Dist. v Town of Poughkeepsie Planning Bd., 156 AD3d 621, 623). Here, the gravamen of the petition/complaint is that the zoning amendments will cause the petitioner/plaintiff to suffer economic harm. Such allegations are insufficient to confer standing to challenge the adequacy of the Common Council’s environmental review of the zoning amendments under SEQRA (see Matter of County Oil Co., Inc. v New York City Dept. of Envtl. Protection, 111 AD3d 718; Matter of Bridon Realty Co. v Town Bd. of Town of Clarkstown, 250 AD2d 677).”

With respect to the challenge to the constitutionality of the amendments, the Appellate Division noted the presumptions in favor of validity and that the burden upon a party challenging local laws and ordinances is to prove the invalidity “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

The Appellate Division found:

“Here, the respondents/defendants demonstrated, prima facie, that the zoning amendments were rationally related to a legitimate governmental purpose, and that there was a reasonable relation between the end sought to be achieved by the zoning amendments and the means used to achieve that end. The respondents/defendants further demonstrated, prima facie, that the zoning amendments are in accordance with a well-considered comprehensive plan, and fall within the bounds of the zoning power delegated to the City by statute (see Asian Ams. for Equality v Koch, 72 NY2d at 121; Matter of JDM Holdings, LLC v Village of Warwick, 200 AD3d 880; Hogue v Village of Dering Harbor, 199 AD3d 904). In opposition, the petitioner/plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact.”

As noted, the Appellate Division went on to uphold the lower court but also modified the decision by specifying “we modify the order and judgment by adding thereto a provision declaring that the zoning amendments are not invalid as arbitrary and unconstitutional (see Lanza v Wagner, 11 NY2d 317, 334).”

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