The Town Board of the Town of Southampton adopted the Hampton Bays Downtown Overlay District (“Overlay District”) Form Based Code by Town Board resolution 2020-288 on February 25, 2020 with the support of a Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“SGEIS”) Findings Statement. The intent of the Overlay District was, in part, to “prepare Hampton Bays for redevelopment. The Town is now seeking to build upon existing planning efforts in a manner that is consistent with the needs and desires of a vibrant year-round community. This includes the encouragement of a mix of retail stores, service-related businesses, restaurants, workforce and senior housing options, along with improved transportation infrastructure, pedestrian pathways and public green spaces throughout the downtown area. The strategy to create a Hampton Bays Downtown Overlay District represents a comprehensive response to community needs and objectives defined in many planning and policy documents adopted by the Town Board…” The Town had conducted a study in 2013 entitled the Hampton Bays Corridor Strategic Plan and Cumulative Impact of Build-Out Study (Corridor Study) and adopted a Findings Statement in connection with the Hampton Bays Generic Environmental Impact Study (“GEIS”) by Town Board Resolution 2013-1024. In 2016, the Town conducted community meetings and an online survey to get community input for the design of the Hampton Bays Business District. In June of 2017, the Town published a planning “pattern book” for the business district. Drawing upon its prior environmental review, in September of 2018, the Town prepared the SGEIS which was supposed to update the GEIS adopted in connection with the Corridor Study to serve as a basis for the proposed Overlay District. As referenced above, in February 2020, the Town Board adopted a findings statement pursuant to that SGEIS and the Overlay District law.
A neighboring property owner, Gayle Lombardi (“Petitioner”) brought an Article 78 Proceeding challenging the adoption of the Overlay District in Lombardi v. Town of Southampton, Index No. 1883-2020, dated July 21, 2020. Specifically, Petitioner alleged that the adoption violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) by (i) relying on outdated and incomplete facts regarding the public water supply in the SGEIS, (ii) segmenting the environmental impact assessment of the Overlay District from the Corridor Study in preparation of the SGEIS, (iii) permitting substandard off-street parking under the Overlay District, (iv) failing to consider reasonable alternatives to the Overlay District, and (v) allowing standalone multifamily and 3.5 story buildings resulting in increased density in violation of the principals and policies in the Town Code. The Court agreed.
In its determination, the Supreme Court set forth the standard for reviewing an agency’s compliance with the substantive mandates of SEQRA stating that courts review the final EIS to “determine whether the agency identified the relevant areas of environmental concern, took a “hard look” at them, and made a “reasoned elaboration” of the basis for its determination.” Specifically, the Court found that the Town Board adopted the SGEIS while a State Superfund site investigation of the contamination of certain Hampton Bays Water District water supply wells located within the Overlay District boundary was still pending. While the SGEIS noted the contaminated wells, it stated that the Town Board should continue to support efforts by the NYSDEC to remediate soil and groundwater contamination from the Superfund site. The Court found this improper stating, “deferring resolution of the remediation is improper as it shields the remediation plan from public scrutiny.” The Court also found that the Town Board failed to consider a ten year capital plan for the Hampton Bays Water District which raised concerns related to the public water supply and, as a result, failed to take the requisite “hard look” at this area of environmental concern.
Petitioner also claimed that the SEQRA review was improperly segmented because the build out based on the zoning permitted under the newly adopted Overlay District was significantly greater than the projected build out under the previously adopted Corridor Study. The Court found that the Overlay District was “clearly a part of the Corridor Plan so “the SGEIS improperly segmented the assessment of the plans by not sufficiently evaluating the cumulative impacts of all phases of the plan.” The Court found that the remaining issues raised by Petitioner were properly addressed by the Town. Regardless, the Court granted the Article 78 Petition and annulled Town Board’s adoption of the Overlay District, SGEIS and Town Board Resolution No. 2020-288 rendering the Hampton Bays Downtown Overlay District Form Based Code null and void.