Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 5, 2014

NY Appellate Court Reverses Zoning Board’s Interpretation of the Word “Auditorium” Which was not Defined in Applicable Zoning Ordinance

Petitioners own an armory situated in a commercial office district, where the use of the property for an auditorium is permitted. Following certain events at the venue, the City’s Division of Buildings and Regulatory Compliance issued multiple cease and desist orders. As a result, the petitioner and the City entered into a memorandum of understanding whereby the petitioner would submit an application to the zoning board for further clarification as to what events/uses constitute permitted uses of the property.

Following the application, the zoning board issued a determination finding that the “use of the facility for a ‘Rave’ party, nightclub, dance club or other similar uses is excluded from the definition of an ‘[a]uditori[um]’ and thus is an illegal use.” Petitioner appealed and the trial court dismissed.

The appellate court reversed, noting that in its application, the petitioner proposed to use the venue for “musical entertainment” events including those where attendees are standing for the entire event. The Court found that the zoning board’s determination that such use was not permitted was based solely on their interpretation of the word “auditorium” which is not defined in the zoning ordinance. While the zoning board did look to the plain meaning and dictionary definition of the word, the Court noted that the zoning board picked one definition they liked, but ignored alternative definitions which do not require an audience to be seated. Any ambiguity in the zoning ordinance must be resolved in favor of the petitioner, and therefore the Court annulled the board’s interpretation.

Albany Basketball & Sports Corporation v City of Albany, 2014 WL 1316331 (NYAD 3 Dept. 4/3/2014)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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