On 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.