Posted by: Patricia Salkin | March 22, 2015

NY Appellate Court Finds Action Challenging the Propriety of an Agreement Did Not Satisfy the Exception to the Mootness Doctrine and that Town Violated Open Meetings Law

In 2011, respondent New York Safety Track LLC made an application for site plan approval to respondent Town of Harpersfield Planning Board to convert a former airport property to a motorcycle safety training facility.  The Planning Board’s minutes indicate that it had conditionally approved the proposed site plan application, and the facility was completed thereafter. After receiving numerous complaints from neighboring landowners that the facility was hosting large, high-speed racing events, respondent Town of Harpersfield Code Enforcement Officer advised Safety Track that its advertised racing and large track events were not authorized uses pursuant to the site plan that had been approved by the Planning Board.   A few weeks later, the CEO, the Planning Board, respondent Town of Harpersfield and Safety Track executed an “Agreement for Operation of New York Safety Track” (hereinafter the 2013 agreement) and an events calendar for the 2013 facility’s season, which purported to outline Safety Track’s approved land uses for May 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013.  After an Article 78 proceeding, the Supreme Court issued a judgment determining that petitioners’ challenge to the then-expired 2013 agreement was not moot, annulled it and made declarations regarding the scope of Safety Track’s permissible land uses.

At the outset, the court discussed that where the passage of time or a change in circumstances prevents a court from rendering a decision that would effectively determine an actual controversy, the claim must be dismissed.   Here, the 2013 agreement pertained solely to Safety Track’s land uses and events that occurred during the 2013 track season and expired at the end of that year, thereby rendering the challenges to the 2013 agreement moot.  Furthermore, the court found that the Supreme Court did not err in its determination that the Town committed violations of the Open Meetings Law on several occasions leading up to the execution of the 2013 agreement with Safety Track and its subsequent award of reasonable counsel fees and costs to petitioners. This was due to the fact that the Town’s conduct denied petitioners “any meaningful participation” in the process leading to the final adoption of the controversial 2013 agreement, in clear contravention of Public Officers Law § 103(e). Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed.

Ballard v New York Safety Track, LLC, 2015 WL 919739 (NYAD 3 Dept. 3/5/2015)

The opinion can be accessed at: http://decisions.courts.state.ny.us/ad3/decisions/2015/518627.pdf


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