Generally, when a majority of the members of a zoning board of appeals (ZBA) either votes in favor of or against an action, the board is considered to have acted. What if a ZBA is unable to take any kind of majority action, ending up with a tie vote? The result hinges on the dual jurisdictions many ZBAs enjoy.
All ZBAs are directly given appellate jurisdiction by state law; however, where a local law or ordinance grants a ZBA additional powers, the additional powers are referred to as “original jurisdiction.” Examples of a ZBA’s original jurisdiction include the power to grant special use permits.
In Tall Trees Construction Corp. v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Huntington, 97 NY2d 86 , the Court of Appels determined the effect of repeated tie votes by the Town of Huntington ZBA for variances. The court held that “when a quorum of the Board is present and participates in a vote on an application, a vote of less than a majority of the Board is deemed a denial.”
This conclusion led the Legislature, in 2002, to codify an amendment to Town Law § 267-a that added a new subsection entitled “Voting requirements.” In particular, Town Law 267-a(13)(b) states:
“Default denial of appeal. In exercising its appellate jurisdiction only, if an affirmative vote of a majority of all members of the board is not attained on a motion or resolution to grant a variance or reverse any order, requirement, decision or determination of the enforcement official within the time allowed by subdivision eight of this section, the appeal is denied….” (emphasis added).
So, what happens when a ZBA casts a tie vote in an application for a special use permit? Nothing, according to the Third Department’s recent decision in Matter of Alper Restaurant Inc. v. Town of Copake Zoning Board Of Appeals, 2017 NY Slip Op 02871 [3d Dept 2017]. In Alper, the Court affirmed the Supreme Court’s decision that a 2-2 vote issued for a special use permit was a non-action, because there was no majority vote; and the ZBA was exerting its original jurisdiction over the applicant’s special use permit. This enabled the ZBA to vote again on the same matter and grant it with a 3-2 vote.
Thus, an appeal or variance is considered to be denied by statute if a tie vote is cast when considering a variance. This is not so when the same board is voting on a special use permit. A tie vote in connection with a special permit results in a non-action. This begs the question of whether ZBA’s voting multiple times on special use permits is the desired result?