In Matter of Sagaponack Ventures, LLC v Bd. of Trustees of the Vil. of Sagaponack, the Second Department upheld the denial of an Article 78 proceeding seeking to vacate and annul a determination of the Board of Trustees of the Village of Sagaponack (the “Board”).  In its determination, the Board denied the site plan application submitted by Sagaponack Ventures, LLC (the “Petitioner” or “Applicant”), which sought to develop a 13,780-square foot single-family residence on the northwest corner of its 43.5-acre oceanfront property (the “Property”) located in the Village of Sagaponack (the “Village”).  Because it is located within the Village’s Agricultural Overlay District, the Property is subject to certain development guidelines set forth in the Sagaponack Village Code (the “Code”), which must be considered by the Board in rendering a determination.  Section 245-67(M) of the Code provides the following:

Agricultural Overlay District.  In considering site plan applications for all buildings or other structures that are to be situated on a lot equal to or greater than five acres and located within the Agricultural Overlay District, the Planning Board shall use the following factors to determine the most suitable location of the buildings or other structures for the current and future development of the property and the most suitable area for future farmland preservation:

(1)  Development areas shall be located on the portion of the lot where impacts on the loss of prime agricultural soils are minimized.

(2)  Development areas shall be located on the portion of the lot where impacts on views and vistas of the farmland areas from public rights-of-way are minimized.

(3)  Farmland areas shall be located on the portion of the lot to encourage continuity of farmland and farming operations on the lot and adjoining properties.

(4)  Development and farmland areas shall be located to minimize impacts on the future subdivision of the lot in accordance with open space requirements.

In its decision, the Board assessed each of those four factors.

With respect to the first factor, the Board noted that all of the 43.5 acres of the Property is comprised of “prime agricultural soils.”  However, the Board gave considerable weight to the fact that the southern portion of the Property was disturbed in 2007, when topsoil was removed and the area was filled, resulting in a change in elevation.  Furthermore, the fact that the Applicant did not permit a soil scientist to inspect the Property at the Village’s expense did not sit well with the Board.  One thing was clear to the Board—development on the portion of the Property requested by the Applicant would undoubtedly have a significant impact on the loss of prime agricultural soils, and would reduce the amount of farmable land on the Property.

With respect to the second factor, the Board found that the application as submitted would significantly impact views and vistas of the remaining farmland on the Property from public rights-of-way.  The southern portion of the Property is on the ocean, whereas the northern portion of the Property is adjacent to a public highway.  Thus, the Board found that the public’s views and vistas of the farmland would be minimized if development were to occur on the southernmost portion of the Property, rather than on the northwest corner.

The third factor was not much of a concern to the Board because no portion of the Property, nor the land adjacent to the Property, has been farmed over the past several years.

Lastly, in considering the fourth factor, the Board determined that development on the northwest corner of the Property would impact any future subdivision of the Property because the parcel would not conform to the applicable open space requirements upon the subdivision.

Based on its assessment of the four factors in Code Section 245-67(M), the Board ultimately determined that the northwest corner of the Property was not “the most suitable location” for the development of the Petitioner’s proposed single-family residence.  Despite the Petitioner’s contrary contentions, the Second Department upheld the trial court’s determination that the Board’s findings were rationally based and a valid exercise of the Board’s broad discretion.

As a final takeaway, this case emphasizes the importance of those seeking to develop their property to be aware of restrictions or unique guidelines in their local code, which may affect their development rights depending on their property’s characterization or location.