Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 8, 2012

NY Appellate Court Explains Evidentiary Burdens Required for Type 1 Actions under SEQRA Where Town Adopts New Zoning Laws to Ensure Participation in National Flood Insurance Program

To ensure its continued participation in the National Flood Insurance Program and potentially reduce insurance rates for property within its borders, respondent, the Town of New Paltz, began drafting new zoning laws addressing construction and development in floodplains. The Town, acting as lead agency, prepared an environmental assessment form (EAF), held a public hearing and obtained approval from the Ulster County Planning Board, the Town Environmental Conservation Board and the Town Planning Board. Pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), the Town Board issued negative declarations and adopted the laws. Petitioners commenced an action for declaratory judgment claiming that the laws must be annulled because the town failed to comply with SEQRA. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition and the petitioners appealed.

The Appellate court affirmed the ruling of the trial court. Amendments of zoning ordinances are Type 1 actions under SEQRA and require evaluation of their environmental impact. If the lead agency determines that environmental impact of the action would be insignificant, preparation of an environmental impact statement is not required and the Town may issue a negative declaration. Once a negative declaration is issued, a Court may only overturn it where they find that it is arbitrary, capricious or not supported by the evidence.

The court found that none of the evidence that the town had at its disposal would support a finding that the negative declaration was issued on arbitrary or capricious grounds. The only negative evidence that existed was from the public hearing and was mostly related to the potential economic impact of the new laws. The EAF, in fact, showed that most of the environmental impacts would be neutral or would actually benefit the environment. Further, the references to the EAF in the negative declaration satisfied the requirement for “reasoned elaboration” in support of the negative declaration and was therefore in like with the SEQRA requirements.

Gabrielli v. Town of New Paltz, 513099, 2012 WL 652798 (N.Y.A.D. 2 Dept. 3/1/2012)

This opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2012/2012_01538.htm


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