two housesOn April 5, 2017, in an Article 78 proceeding, Tavano v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Patterson, 2017 NY Slip Op 02661, the Second Department reversed a trial court decision and reinstated a decision of the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Patterson.  The zoning board had granted petitioner Tavano’s application to establish a legal non-conforming use of a second building on his property, referred to as the “cottage.”

Tavano argued that the cottage located at his property was a leased residential dwelling and that its use preexisted the Town’s 1942 zoning ordinance, which provided that “a building, structure, or premises could be used as a rooming or boarding house so long as there were no more than three boarders or roomers.”  Id.

In reversing the trial court’s finding, the Appellate Division noted that petitioner owned property in Brewster that is improved with a single family dwelling constructed in 1947 and a cottage constructed in 1955.  Tavano lived in the single family dwelling and rented the cottage.

Although the Appellate Division did not affirmatively state that its decision rested on the fact that the cottage was constructed in 1955, well after the 1942 zoning ordinance was enacted, and thus, Tavano could not establish entitlement to a legal nonconforming use, the Court did state that “to establish a legal nonconforming use, a property owner must demonstrate that the allegedly preexisting use was legal prior to the enactment of the zoning ordinance that purportedly rendered it nonconforming.”

Here, and without benefit of the trial court opinion, it appears that the relevant question was not only whether the cottage was constructed prior to enactment of the 1942 ordinance, but also whether Tavano’s use of the cottage constituted use as a rooming or boarding house.

In reinstating the zoning  board’s decision, the Appellate Division relied upon the long-standing legal principle that ‘[t]he determination of a zoning board regarding the continuation of a preexisting nonconfirming use must be sustained if it is rational and supported by substantial evidence, even if the reviewing court would have reached a different result”

Consequently, and as all land use lawyers will attest, even if the trial court or reviewing court would have reached a different result than that zoning board, deference is to be afforded to the zoning board.  Finding that the “ZBA’s determination that the cottage did not constitute a rooming or boarding house under the 1942 zoning ordinance was not arbitrary or capricious”, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court and reinstated the zoning board’s decision.

The orientation of a tennis court in a north/south direction is a benefit to competitive players interested in fair tennis play. Even the Appellate Division, Second Department, agrees.

To avoid the impact of sun glare, a Town of Southampton property owner sought several variances to construct a tennis court in a north/south direction. One of the variances requested a 17-foot setback from the street where 90 feet is required.  (Southampton Town Code, Section 330-11.)   This variance would allow the tennis court to be situated in a north/south direction and thus avoid the impact of sun glare that would occur if situated in an east/west direction.

StockSnap_8ODE0WIMD9A neighboring property owner, located across the street, appeared at the public hearing and opposed the requested variances.  In reaching its 2014 determination to grant the variance application, the Southampton Board of Zoning Appeals found that the proposed tennis court was located 158 feet away from the opposing neighbor’s house and therefore would not create a detriment to the property owner or the surrounding neighborhood.

The Board also relied upon no less than eight (8) mitigating factors, including:

  • Proposed landscape screening;
  • Sinking the court into the ground by four feet, thereby mitigating potential noise impacts;
  • The alternative of constructing a 9,000 square foot house was far more impactful;
  • The goal of distancing the court from the immediately contiguous neighbors was more important than any perceived impact to the opposing neighbor located across the street.

Unhappy with the Zoning Board’s determination, the opposing neighbor commenced an Article 78 proceeding in addition to seeking a TRO and preliminary injunctive relief.  After considering the arguments, by Decision and Order dated May 19, 2014, the trial court (J. Garguilo) upheld the Zoning Board’s decision, while at the same time vacating the TRO and denying petitioner’s request for preliminary injunctive relief.   Petitioner’s attempt to appeal the denial of injunctive relief was dismissed by the Appellate Division as the Second Department held that “appeal from the intermediate order in this proceeding must be dismissed because the right of direct appeal therefrom terminated with the entry of a judgment dated November 10, 2014.”  Id.

By further decision of even date, the Appellate Division upheld the Zoning Board determination, finding not only  “there was no evidence that the granting of the variance would produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood, have an adverse effect on physical and environmental conditions, or otherwise result in a detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood or community . . . [but also] the Zoning Board rationally concluded that the benefit sought by [the applicant}, namely, to maximize its use of the proposed tennis court, could not be achieved by the alternative site proposed by the petitioner.”  Id.

The Appellate Division made the above determinations despite the fact that it found that the variances requested by the property owner were substantial in nature and that the difficulty was self-created. This decision is important to those seeking to uphold a favorable variance grant in the wake of neighboring opposition because this decision demonstrates that focusing on the absence of, or minimal, undesirable change in a neighborhood and detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of a community can trump substantial variance requests, including those that are self-created in nature.

logo-colorBefore we blog our way into 2017, we wanted to take a moment to review the topics that we blogged about in 2016 and to remind our readers that the land use practice group at Farrell Fritz is a diverse group of attorneys, which is why the topics that we blog about are quite diverse.

For example, it is not uncommon for our practice group to be involved in a large-scale transactional development project, while at the same time, we are drafting or answering an order to show cause; drafting easement agreements; exploring an adverse possession claim; resolving environmental issues; preparing, presenting and defending applications; and litigating our way through a criminal zoning code violation.   Our diverse legal talents are reflected in the topics that we chose to blog about in 2016.

We started the 2016 blogging year, for example, discussing riparian rights, climate change,  e-waste regulationsPine Barrens credits and renewable energy.  As the spring and summer approached, we tackled summer rental laws and the controversial role that Air BnB plays in short-term rentals.  During this time, we also blogged about the increasing presence of Vape stores on Long Island and how municipalities are tackling Vape store land use regulations.

One very popular 2016 topic in the land use community focused on the use of Drones and Drone regulation.   We will, of course, follow this developing topic in 2017, so be on the lookout for our Drone updates.favicon

Likewise, and always a controversial land use topic, is the use of moratoriums. Last year we blogged about the Village of Patchogue’s and the Village of Sag Harbor’s use of moratoriums to slow Village development.   We also addressed the hot topic of “zombie houses” by discussing not only what a “zombie house” is, but also blogged about legislation at the state, county and local levels aimed at combating the increasing number of zombie homes and decreasing the negative impact that these homes have on our communities.

 And, always relevant topics in the land use arena, we blogged about easements, SEQRA, farmland preservation, special permits and variances, the Hamptons helicopter route, rezoning the East End in Moriches and Eastport, General Municipal Law 239-m referrals, and non-conforming uses.

Finally, no year in review would be complete without mention of Facebook and the pitfalls that all litigants face when they take to social media during the pendency of a  land use lawsuit.  Check out our post on the monetary and other sanctions that the Village of Pomona suffered.

The above is just a quick snapshot of the topics that we blogged about in 2016.   We will kick off 2017 next Monday, January 9, 2016 with our new year’s post by Charlotte A. Biblow, Esq.   We hope you enjoyed our year in review and that in the coming year, you will help us increase our readership by forwarding our posts to your colleagues and friends and inviting them to subscribe to our weekly blog by email.

Happy New Year to all.

hour-glassUnder New York State law, zoning boards and planning boards are authorized to impose reasonable and appropriate conditions  and restrictions on the grant of a variance or special permit, provided that they are directly related to, and incidental to, the proposed use of the property.  Such conditions shall be consistent with the spirit and intent of the zoning ordinance and shall be imposed for the purpose of minimizing any adverse impact such variance or special permit may have on the neighborhood community.  As a further limitation on the imposition of conditions, said conditions must also be authorized by the zoning ordinance.

In Matter of Ronald Citrin v. Board of Zoning and Appeals of Town of North Hempstead, 2016 NY Slip Op 06827 (2d Dept., October 19, 2016), the Town of North Hempstead Zoning Board of Appeals granted Petitioners’ application, brought pursuant to Town Code § 70-225(E), for a special permit.  The special permit sought to continue the use of a parking lot that was located adjacent to its restaurant and extended into the residentially-zoned portion of the Petitioner’s split-zoned lot.  The Zoning Board granted the Petitioner’s application to continue the use of the parking lot in the residence district, but imposed a five-year durational limit on the grant.

The Petitioners commenced a CPLR Article 78 proceeding, seeking to annul the five-year durational limit. After the Supreme Court denied the petition and dismissed the proceeding, the Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed and annulled the portion of the Zoning Board determination that imposed the five-year duration limit.  The appellate court found that the Zoning Board did not have the authority to impose a duration limit on the special permit because Town Code § 70-225(E) does not explicitly provide the Board with the authority to impose durational limits upon permits granted pursuant to that section.  Accordingly, it was improper for the Board to include a five-year durational limit on a special permit granted pursuant to that provision.

10187-5810-100208151901-6962-displayOn July 21, 2016, the Appellate Division, Third Department, upheld a decision of the trial court in  Lavender II v. Board of Zoning Appeals of the Town of Bolton, 141 A.D. 3d 970 (3d Dept., 2016) (Krogmann, J. ,Warren County) holding that a Castle located in a residential zone along panoramic Lake George, could not be used for commercial purposes such as weddings, large parties, and other social receptions.  Id.

In early 2010, petitioner, John A. Lavender, II, began advertising Highlands Castle on the internet describing the property as “a perfect setting for a special gathering with family and friends . . . or any other meaningful experience you can envision.” Id.  The Castle is located in a residential zone. 

In 2012, the local Zoning Administrator determined that the rental activities did not violate the Town Code.  An appeal was taken by the neighbors, which resulted in a determination by the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Bolton, finding that “the activities conducted at Highlands Castle are commercial in nature and are not customarily associated with the use of a single-family dwelling. ”  Id.

Petitioner filed an Article 78 proceeding.  In 2013, the trial court affirmed the Zoning Board’s decision concluding that the activities conducted at Highlands Castle violated the single-family dwellings and associated permitted uses as defined by  Bolton Town Code Section 200.8.  Despite the trial court decision, petitioner continued to use Highlands Castle for weddings, events, and even an American Bar Association event.  A restraining order was issued in 2013, and a final decision dismissing petitioner’s claims was rendered by the trial court in 2015.

Petitioner filed an appeal.  In upholding the trial court decision, the Third Department stated that there “is no dispute that the physical structure situated on petitioner’s property falls squarely within the definition of a single family dwelling.”  The Court further stated that the relevant inquiry “distils to whether petitioner’s use of the property as a venue for weddings, receptions, and other events constitutes an “accessory use” within the meaning of the Town Code.”  Id.

The Court noted that petitioner’s contention that “Highlands Castle is held out merely for residential use” is entirely belied by the record.   Highlands Castle was offered for rent, with an emphasis on weddings, large parties, and other receptions.  Petitioner marketed the property on the internet and even offered a comprehensive package, including photographers, food, and vendors to meet every need.

Of critical importance to the Court was the fact that not only was Highlands Castle never rented out for even one single family use, but also, there was no evidence offered to support a finding that use of Highlands Castle for commercial purposes fits within the definition of permitted accessory uses as set forth in Bolton Town Code Section 200.8.  In light of the record and the lack of evidence proffered by petitioner, the Third Department stated that the decision by the Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Bolton was neither irrational nor unreasonable.

Of interesting note:  the Highlands Castle website continues to offer the property for weddings, parties, and receptions to be held at Highlands Castle, the Castle Cottage, and the Royal Bedroom.  Same can also be found on Airbnb- refer to our earlier post by Anthony S. Guardino discussing Airbnb land use pitfalls.

 

 

With an increase in the number of vineyards marketing themselves as venues for wedding receptions and special events, local governments across New York State have begun enacting legislation aimed at curtailing the marketing activities of vineyards, indicating that they are seeking to protect the health and safety of their communities. Vineyard Wedding PicSome towns and villages now require vineyards to obtain special permits or even submit site plans, a process that can often be drawn-out and arduous, before permitting vineyards to host certain events. But can municipalities regulate the marketing activities of vineyards located in a local agricultural district? The answer is: it depends.

NYS Agriculture and Markets Law

The New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets recognizes the importance marketing plays in the success and economic viability of a vineyard. In fact, §301(11) of the Agriculture and Markets Law (“AML”) expressly acknowledges that “marketing activities” are part of the “farm operation” of a vineyard when the wine served at these events is composed predominantly of on-farm grapes and fruit. The Department has also determined that on-farm wedding receptions, charitable events and other similar undertakings constitute “marketing activities” and are thus protected and cannot be unreasonably restricted by local municipalities if the vineyard is located in a local agricultural district.

Events hosted by vineyards must be:

  • directly related to the sale of the wine produced on-site
  • be composed from at least 51% of the grapes harvested thereon
  • be incidental to the retail sale of the wine sold
  • hosted by the vineyard or a customer of the vineyard, not an unrelated third-party.

If these conditions are not met, the vineyard cannot avail itself of the protections afforded by the AML and will be subject to local zoning laws.

Municipality Rights & Limits

The Department will also allow local municipalities to require a vineyard to obtain a special use permit or subject itself to site plan review so long as the process is streamlined and not unreasonably burdensome or cost prohibitive. Local municipalities can also require certain information from the vineyard about the proposed event. For example a town or village may be interested in the date and time of a proposed event, the number of people expected to attend, security information, etc.

Should a vineyard find the process to obtain approval from the local government to be unreasonable or arbitrary and capricious, the Department may review the matter pursuant to its powers under §305-a of the AML.

Take-away for Vineyard Owners & Operators

It is important for owners and operators of vineyards to understand that not all marketing activities will be protected by the AML. Even more important is the requirement that vineyards maintain sufficient records which conclusively demonstrate that the marketing events hosted are incidental to the annual sales of the vineyard’s wine. Moreover, the local government may require the vineyard to submit an annual report that confirms the incidental nature of the marketing events.

The AML protects vineyards located within a local agricultural district from unreasonable regulations promulgated by municipalities and can be a good friend when a vineyard’s rights are being infringed upon.

Located in the hamlet of Bridgehampton, Town of Southampton, a sand mine operation owned by Sand Land Corporation and run by Wainscott Sand & Gravel Corporation (“Sand Land”) had its zoning changed by the Town in 1972 from G-Industrial to CR Country Residence, now CR200, constituting five-acre residential zoning. Upon the zone change, the sand mine became a pre-existing nonconforming use. But now, this sand mine finds itself located in an affluent residential neighborhood with assessed values ranging from $1.5 million to $3.8 million.  The sand mine also abuts the posh Golf at the Bridge, (now known as The Bridge Golf Club), a private golf and country club. Naturally, the activity at the sand mine creates truck traffic, noise, dust and odors normally associated with such businesses, which is at odds with the residential and private golf club uses nearby.  However, the expansion of Sand Land’s business activities to include a mulching operation and concrete processing facility incited the neighbors to challenge the pre-existing use.

Sand Land v Southampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals

Mining effectively became prohibited in the Town of Southampton on March 27, 1981. See Huntington Ready Mix Concrete v. Town of Southampton et al. Therefore, there is no other location in the Town where Sand Land could move and legally operate its mining operation.

In 2005, the neighbors (funded in part by the Golf Club owners) brought a Town Law §268(2) action to enjoin Sand Land from certain uses of its property. While the action was still pending, Sand Land sought a pre-existing certificate of occupancy from the Town Chief Building Inspector. In 2011, the Chief Building Inspector issued a pre-existing certificate of occupancy for (i) the operation of a sand mine, (ii) the receipt and processing of trees, brush, stumps, leaves and other clearing debris into topsoil or mulch and (iii) the storage, sale, and delivery of sand, mulch, topsoil, and wood chips.  The Chief Building Inspector denied that Sand Land had a pre-existing use to receive and process concrete, asphalt, pavement, brick, rock and stone into concrete blend. The neighbors appealed the Chief Building Inspector’s determination to the Zoning Board of Appeals.

The Zoning Board found that Sand Land was entitled to the pre-existing sand mine use including the storage, sale and delivery of sand and receiving trees, brush, stumps, leaves, and other clearing debris as a pre-existing accessory use to the mining operation.  However, the ZBA found Sand Land was not entitled to a pre-existing certificate of occupancy for (i) the processing of trees, brush, stumps, leaves and other clearing debris into topsoil or mulch, and (ii) the storage, sale and delivery of mulch, topsoil, and wood chips. The Zoning Board found those uses to be new and an impermissible expansion of the nonconforming mining operation, stating, “there is no case law or holding to date that finds the processing of trees, brush, stumps, leaves and other clearing debris into topsoil or mulch and the storage, sale and delivery of mulch, topsoil and wood chips to be a part of, or a natural outgrowth of, sand mining” citing, McDonald v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Islip, 31 A.D.3d 642 (2d Dept. 2006).

Southampton Town Zoning Board Prevails

Sand Land sued the Zoning Board. In a decision dated February 18, 2014, the trial court overruled the Zoning Board and re-instated the decision of the Chief Building Inspector. Sand Land Corp. v Zoning Board of Appeals, 43 Misc. 3d 1202 (Sup. Ct. Suffolk Co. 2014). The Zoning Board and the neighbors appealed.  A few weeks ago, the Appellate Division found “it was reasonable for the ZBA to conclude, in effect, that these “new uses” constituted a “significant change” from the nonconforming sand mine operation and the accessory receipt of various yard debris.  Accordingly, the Supreme Court erred in annulling the ZBA’s determination.” In the Matter of Sand Land Corp. v Zoning Board of Appeals, 2016 Slip Op. 02372 (Appellate Division, 2d Dept March 30, 2016).

Is this Truly a Win for the Town and its Residents?

The ZBA can celebrate its reasoned determination being upheld, but the result of its determination created a practical difficulty within the Town. Sand Land may choose not to accept delivery of trees/brush, stumps, leaves, and clearing debris, since it is not permitted to process and sell it. Numerous East End businesses used Sand Land as the site where they brought their refuse. According to the ZBA determination, even the Town of Southampton itself used to bring debris to the site.  This forces local landscaping and other businesses in the Town to travel farther to find a permitted receiving area to dispose of their refuse.  Indeed, Newsday reported Supervisor Jay Schneiderman stating, in response to the Appellate Division’s decision, “there is clearly a need to process yard waste” and that “he is trying to find ways to expand the capacity of the town’s three disposal sites to accommodate the waste.”

This is a perfect example of the difficulty with certain preexisting nonconforming uses. Although considered a nuisance by neighbors, they can be invaluable to a different faction of the community; in this case the landscaping business community, which plays an important role in keeping the Hamptons beautiful!

Crown Point neighborhood signsUsing Airbnb and similar web-based short-term rental services that enable homeowners to rent out their homes has become popular with budget-conscious travelers.  However, a growing number of municipalities believe that such transient rentals threaten the residential character and quality of life in the neighborhoods in which they occur and have adopted laws to regulate short-term rentals in their communities.

For instance, in August 2015, the Town of Southold adopted a local law banning “transient rental properties,” which are defined as dwellings that are rented out for a period of less than 14 nights at a time.  Under the law, rentals are presumed illegal if they are advertised on websites such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VBRO.  This presumption can be rebutted by presenting evidence to the Town’s Code Enforcement Officer demonstrating that the residence is not a transient rental property.  Violators face fines from $1,500 to $8,000 for a first offense, and from $3,000 to $15,000 for conviction of a second or subsequent offense within 18 months.

Proponents of Southold’s law claimed that homeowners who were offering their homes for short-term rental were essentially operating commercial businesses in residential neighborhoods that created quality of life issues for other residents.  Some residents also claimed these short-term rentals enjoyed a competitive advantage over local hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, which are subject to regulations that short-term rentals are not.  Opponents of the law argued that the Town Board failed to recognize the importance of short-term rentals, not only to North Fork homeowners who rely on the additional income, but also to the area’s tourism industry, which they claim suffers from a lack of traditional lodging.

In the first challenges to the law, an attorney representing a number of homeowners who had been advertising their homes for short-term rentals is claiming that his clients’ actions are “grandfathered” under the Town Code’s provisions which deal with “non-conforming uses” – uses that legally existed prior to the passage of the new legislation.  On March 25, 2016, two applications were filed with the Town’s zoning board of appeals seeking relief from the law.

While all sides will be monitoring these challenges closely, it is unlikely that the law’s validity will be decided at the zoning board of appeals level because the board’s decisions are likely to be challenged in a court of law.

Stay tuned, because as this year’s summer vacation season rapidly approaches, this East End hot-button topic will undoubtedly get hotter.

imagesOn February 23, 2016, the Glen Cove City Council voted to approve a local law allowing the City’s Board of Zoning Appeals to issue its decisions in summary format.  Summary decisions would set forth the Board’s decision and any conditions imposed, without enumerating detailed findings which form the basis of the Board’s decision.  The law’s objective is to expedite the issuance of decisions, which can take significantly longer to draft in the standard format with lengthy explanations of the Board’s findings and justifications.  These longer decisions can delay applicants’ projects by several months.  The Glen Cove measure gives the Board the option of issuing a summary decision, but mandates that the Board issue a statement of findings if an “aggrieved party ” makes a written demand for it within 30 days after the summary decision is filed with the City Clerk.

Many zoning boards, particularly those that process large numbers of applications each month, advise applicants of their decisions in summary or letter format.  In Matter of Jonas v. Stackler, the Appellate Division, Second Department, tacitly approved the use of zoning board decisions which do not contain factual findings by allowing a board’s decision to be justified by affidavits submitted in a subsequent Article 78 proceeding.

Although Courts will allow a zoning board to articulate the basis for its decision in affidavits submitted in a judicial proceeding, litigation will undoubtedly create far more cost and delay for an applicant, as well as the Board, than would a standard decision.  Accordingly, zoning boards should limit the use of summary decisions only to those applications that are either unopposed or otherwise not likely to be challenged.

vapingTurns out Oscar winner Leonardo DiCaprio can’t vape at the Oscars or in the Village of Lindenhurst.

On March 2, 2016, the Village was the first municipality to crack down on this latest smoking trend – vaping.  The Village  adopted a moratorium prohibiting any new vape stores from being opened in the Village’s business zone.  This temporarily suspends a landowner’s right to obtain development approvals while the municipality considers the potential adoption of such a local law.  Basically, a moratorium preserves the status quo – in this case, no new vape stores.

Vaping involves the use of battery-powered devices to heat an oil-based liquid which is then exhaled, creating a smoke-like vapor.  Considered by some to be the last resort to help smokers quit smoking, vaping by non-smokers has also become trendy among non-smokers. Vaping opponents are concerned about the unknown health risks and addictive qualities it may hold over young users.  Most, but not all, oils used for vaping contain various amounts of nicotine that can be adjusted at the vape store.

Although the prohibition of vaping is not yet law, it will be interesting to see what happens when the smoke of the Village’s moratorium clears.