Appellate Division Upholds Zoning Board Decision Made Without Factual Findings

Land Use

 

The Appellate Division has upheld a Zoning Board’s denial of a petitioner’s application for an area variance even though the board did not provide any factual findings for its denial. Jonas v. Stackler, 95 A.D.3d 1325 (2nd Dep’t 2012). This case is noteworthy because the Court held that a review of the entire record before the Board provided a sufficient basis for determining whether the denial was arbitrary and capricious. Even though the Board failed to provide any factual findings for its denial, the Court held that the record compiled by the Board contained enough evidence to support its denial, and found that its decision was not arbitrary and capricious.

The petitioners in Jonas owned a vacant waterfront parcel at the end of a private road in the Village of Centre Island. The parcel was
irregularly shaped and only 8.4 feet above sea level at its highest point.  Petitioners applied to the Village to permit construction of a 3,654 square foot dwelling. The village denied the request because the parcel did not meet minimum frontage, lot size, or setback
requirements and the dwelling would be built at an elevation less than 12 feet above mean sea level.

Petitioners subsequently applied to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) for area variances. After several public hearings, the BZA approved the application relating to the frontage, lot-size, and setback requirements. However, the Board denied the “elevation” area
variance “as a matter of law,” with no factual findings provided.

Petitioners commenced an Article 78 proceeding asserting that the denial of the elevation variance was arbitrary and capricious, unreasonable, and unsupported by the record. The Supreme Court granted the petition and annulled the determination by the BZA and directed the elevation variance to be approved.

The BZA appealed the Supreme Court’s decision. The Appellate Division for the Second Department reversed and reinstated the BZA’s determination. The Appellate Division noted that “[c]ourts may set aside a zoning board’s determination only where the record reveals that the board acted illegally or arbitrarily, or abused its discretion.” Jonas v. Stackler, 95 A.D.3d at 1328 (citing Matter of Pecoraro v. Board of Appeals of Town of Hempstead, 2 N.Y.3d at 613, 781.

As to the lack of findings of fact, the Court held:

“That no factual findings were provided or articulated does not preclude judicial review. Where there is no formal statement of reasons for the rejection, ‘an examination of the entire record, including the transcript of the meeting at which the vote was taken along with affidavits submitted in the article 78 proceeding can provide a sufficient basis for determining whether the denial was arbitrary and
capricious.’” Jonas v. Stackler, 95 A.D.3d at 1328 (citing Matter of Tall Trees Constr. Corp. v. Zoning Bd. Of Appeals of Town of Huntington, 97 N.Y.2d at 93).”

Since the BZA conducted extensive hearings on the matter, and those in opposition to petitioner’s application presented evidence indicating that the proposed construction would affect flooding, expose neighboring lands and the groundwater to potential
contamination, and have an adverse impact on the aesthetic quality of the community, the Court held that the board was justified on the record, in its denial. The Court also emphasized that the Board was supported by expert testimony based on scientific data and empirical facts.

The case can be read by clicking here.

The author acknowledges Nicholas J. Cappadora for his research and contribution to this article.

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