Posted by: Patricia Salkin | April 12, 2019

NY Appellate Court Affirms Permit Denial for Student Housing in Single-Family Zoning District

This post was authored by Amy Lavine, Esq.


A New York appellate court ruled in April that a group of high school students and their faculty advisor didn’t qualify as a “family” and their school’s request to house them in a single-family residence was therefore properly denied.

The Northwood School operated a private boarding school and wanted to house high school students and a faculty advisor in a single-family home that it had received as a donation. The property was located in the South Lake Residential District, which permitted only single-family and two-family dwellings, however, and the zoning board determined that the school’s proposed use would be inconsistent with the ordinance’s definition of single-family residential use. It refused to grant a certificate of occupancy, and this appeal followed.

The court first explained that the zoning ordinance defined “single-family residential” as “[a] detached dwelling unit designed for year-round or seasonal occupancy by one family only,” with the term “family” meaning “[a] group of people, related or not related, living together as a common household, with numbers of persons and impacts typical of those of a single family.” The zoning board’s determination was based on various evidence that contradicted these requirements. It emphasized “the relative lack of ‘permanence’ in the groups of persons who would be in residence” and suggested that “the feeling of the property is more akin to a boarding house, group home, or dormitory than that of a single-family dwelling.” The court found that these conclusions were reasonable and supported by the record, which disclosed that different groups of students would be housed at the property each year, that the house would only be used during the school year, and that students would not be permitted to use the property as their permanent address. Additionally, the zoning board had considered that the home would include a separate dwelling area for the faculty advisor and that the students wouldn’t be expected to share their meals or household chores.

The court also dismissed the school’s contention that it was entitled to “the special treatment afforded schools and churches stem[ming] from their presumed beneficial effect on the community.” As the court explained, this rule would have required a balancing of interests if the school had sought a special use permit to expand its educational facilities into a residential neighborhood, but it didn’t apply to the school’s request for an interpretation of specifically defined terms included in the zoning ordinance — “an analysis in which such a balancing process plays no role.” The court also briefly noted that the school’s vagueness claim failed as well, as it was only raised on appeal and therefore wasn’t preserved for review.



Matter of Northwood Sch., Inc. v Joint Zoning Bd. of Appeals for The Town of N. Elba & Vil. of Lake Placid, 2019 WL 1473886 (N.Y. App. Div. 3d Dept. 4/4/19).



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