New post on LAW OF THE LAND
NY Trial Court Holds Libraries Entitled to Same Deference as Schools and Religious Institutions in Zoning and Environmental Review
by Patricia Salkin
The East Hampton local library operates as a non-profit institution of the University of the State of New York. Because it ranked second to last in per capita children’s books among 15 local libraries, the library proposed to add a 10,000 square foot children’s wing to the rear of its existing building. After opposition, the project was reduced to just over 6,800 square feet. In 2003, it applied to the ZBA for a special use permit and two variances; the ZBA issued a positive declaration under SEQRA. Despite receiving a letter from the DEC that clearly stated the action was Type II under the regulations, and thus exempt from SEQRA review, the ZBA denied the library’s petition for qualification as a Type II action. Subsequently a DEIS was prepared and found incomplete, then completed and accepted in 2008. Following public hearings and the adoption of findings, the application for the variances and special use permit were denied in July 2010.
It is well established that religious and educational institutions, whether public or private, enjoy special treatment with respect to zoning ordinances, because of their inherently beneficial nature. Further, the East Hampton court points out that religious and educational institutions are recognized as facilitating the very same objectives as zoning ordinances themselves (fostering the public health, safety, morals, and general welfare). This presumed beneficial impact can only be rebutted with evidence of significant impact on the public, which was missing in this case.
The East Hampton ZBA asserted that although the library was chartered by the University of the State of New York and may be treated as an educational institution for some purposes, it should not be considered so for zoning purposes or under SEQRA. The Supreme Court disagreed. Reversing the ZBA’s variance and special permit denials, the court found that the library was an educational institution and, as such, entitled to the same deferential treatment in zoning accorded to schools and religious institutions.
The court also annulled the ZBA’s SEQRA findings statement, stating that the library’s submissions reference 6 NYCRR § 617.5 and clearly establish that the proposed addition constitutes a Type II action under SEQRA. Under 6 NYCRR § 617.5(c)(8), routine activities of educational institutions, including the expansion of existing facilities by less than 10,000 square feet, constitute Type II actions exempted from environmental review. As an interesting result of this case (or rather, a result of the ZBA’s complete disregard of the letter issued by DEC – the very agency charged with SEQRA enforcement), the DEC amended its published SEQRA Handbook so as to emphatically state that, for purposes of 6 NYCRR §617.5(c)(8), educational institutions include all schools and libraries chartered and/or registered by the State Board of Regents.
East Hampton Library v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Village of East Hampton, 31 Misc. 3d 1231(A) (5/17/2011)
Thanks to Jennie Nolon, Esq. of the Land Use Law Center at Pace University School of Law for sending in this abstract.
Patricia Salkin | January 29, 2012 at 1:14 am | Tags: Libraries | Categories: Current Caselaw – New York | URL: http://wp.me/p64kE-1zo
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