Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 19, 2017

Fed. Dist. Court in NY Holds Garden City’s Proffered Reasons for Its Chosen Zoning Change Could Have Been Met by Another Practice that had a Less Discriminatory Effect

Garden City decided to rezone a parcel of land, the “Social Services Site,” that had been previously occupied by governmental offices. It rezoned the Social Services Site “Residential-Townhouse” (“R-T”). Townhouses were defined as single family dwelling units, and the development of multi-family dwellings was limited to less than 15% of the Social Services Site. MHANY, which was then known as New York Acorn Housing Company (“NYAHC”), complained that the R-T zoning would not allow for any affordable multifamily housing, but still submitted a bid to build a nonconforming multi-family development on the Social Services Site, “in protest.” After the contract was awarded to another development company, NYAHC prepared four proposals under the R-M zoning control. The trial court found that Garden City identified several legitimate nondiscriminatory interests, but failed to meet its burden in demonstrating “the absence of a less discriminatory alternative.” The Circuit Court remanded with instructions to determine whether the Plaintiffs MHANY Management, Inc. and New York Communities For Change, Inc. proved at trial that the “substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interests” advanced by Garden City in support of its zoning shift “could be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect.”
On remand the court first found that was unable to re-examine the Plaintiffs’ prima facie case because the Second Circuit explicitly affirmed the finding that the Plaintiffs met their prima facie burden, and the law of the case prevented the court from relitigating the issue. Next, the court determined that the Plaintiffs met their burden in showing that R-M zoning would have served the Defendants’ interests in not overburdening public schools, and reducing traffic. The court previously held that R-M zoning would have provided for a significantly larger percentage of minority households than the pool of potential renters in the R-T zoning. As such, the court held that R-M zoning controls would have a less discriminatory effect than R-T zoning controls.

Utilizing HUD’s interpretation and implementation of the FHA discriminatory effects standard, the court found that it was not required to find that the less discriminatory alternative must be equally effective in serving the defendant’s interests. Here, R-T zoning was not necessary to create a transition zone because R-M also accomplished it, and Garden City’s eventual plan did not include transition. Furthermore, the court found that neither R-M zoning nor R-T zoning would have overburdened or strained the public schools, and that both the R-M zoning and the R-T zoning would have reduced traffic levels. Accordingly, the court affirmed the holding that the adoption of R-T zoning instead of R-M zoning had a disparate impact on minorities in Garden City.

MHANY Management, Inc. v County of Nassau, 2017 WL 4174787 (EDNY 9/19/2017)


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