The petitioner, Gospel Faith Mission International, Inc. (“GFMI”), is the owner of property in Elmont, New York. The property is located in a residential zoning district, but is less than 130 feet south of Hempstead Turnpike and less than 30 feet south of the business district. The land has no on-site parking. GFMI filed an application for a special exception permit to hold religious services on the premises. GFMI also sought a special use permit to construct a parking lot on the premises, and area variances waiving the Town’s off-site parking and parking lot maneuvering space requirements. As a condition to the grant of the applications, the GFMI put forth for consideration that only 90 people would be allowed to enter the church, and that two church vehicles would transport 32 of the petitioner’s approximately 75 members to the site, resulting in that they would need at most 7 to 10 vehicles during hours of operation. The parking lot that they wanted to construct would have 7 on-site spaces, reducing the off-site parking spaces to zero, or up to three. The Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Hempstead (“Board”) rejected GFMI’s applications in its totality.
Subsequently, GFMI commenced an action pursuant to CPLR article 78 to review the Board’s findings. The trial court annulled the determinations, and directed the Board to grant the applications. The appeals court held:  That the board’s denial of GFMI’s applications for a special exception permit and an off-street parking variance was arbitrary and capricious as the board denied the applications without making any attempt to accommodate the proposed religious use of a property or to suggest such measures; and  The lower court properly annulled the determinations and directed the board to grant the applications under such reasonable conditions as would permit the operation of GFMI’s religious facility while mitigating any detrimental or adverse effects on the surrounding community.
The court stated that while religious institutions are not exempt from local zoning laws, greater flexibility is required in evaluating an application for a religious use than an application for another use and every effort to accommodate the religious use must be made. A local zoning board is required to suggest measures to accommodate the proposed religious use while mitigating the adverse effects on the surrounding community to the greatest extent possible. Here, the record indicated that the Board voted to reject the petitioner’s applications without making any attempt to accommodate the proposed religious use. GFMI suggested conditions for the limitation of its use in order to mitigate the impact on the surrounding community. Despite this, the Board denied the applications in their entirety, even though the proposed religious use could have been accommodated.
Matter of Gospel Faith Mission Intl., Inc. v Weiss, 2013 WL 6643644 (N.Y. A.D 2d Dep’t 12/18/2013)
The opinion can be accessed at: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2013/2013_08439.htm