Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 23, 2020

NY Appellate Court Finds Section of Local Law Usurped Powers Reserved Under SEQRA

This post was authored by Matthew Loescher, Esq.

In May 2017, respondent Town Board of the Town of Sand Lake adopted Local Law No. 4, which included a new zoning map and revised zoning districts and allowed mining on properties with existing permits. In September 2017, Troy Sand and Bonded Concrete commenced the first combined proceeding pursuant to CPLR article 78 and an action for declaratory judgment to annul the Town Board’s enactment of Local Law No. 4. Hoffay, Holser, Gardner, Hastings, Hoffay Farm, Harvest House and Antfil and Rifenburg commenced the second and third combined proceedings pursuant to CPLR article 78 and actions for declaratory judgment – seeking similar relief. This case was an appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court, which dismissed petitioners’ applications.

The taxpayer petitioners first asserted that Local Law No. 4 should be declared null and void because it was adopted in the absence of a valid comprehensive plan, since the plan used by the Town Board was outdated and effectively invalid. They further argued that Local Law No. 4 lessened diversity of housing options, eliminated affordable housing options, and imposed substantial burdens on existing farms. The record reflected that the Town Board adopted the present Comprehensive Plan in 2006, after preparing a generic environmental impact statement (“GEIS”). This plan recommended periodic review, so the Town appointed a committee that was charged with regularly reviewing the plan. Additionally, the Town Board did not rely solely on the GEIS in its “hard look” assessment. Instead, the Town Board completed a full and extensive review and indicated that no significant environmental impacts would result from the adoption of Local Law No. 4. Specifically, the Town Board determined that the enactment of Local Law No. 4 would have no significant impact on air quality, water quality, traffic, noise, solid waste or increased flooding/draining because the updates and amendments did not significantly change or establish new zones or permit new land uses that would create any such impact.

As to SEQRA, paragraph (C) of § 250–99 of Local Law No. 4 required that all applications to create a Natural Resource Extraction Planned Development District would be classified as type 1 and would require an environmental impact statement. The court noted that SEQRA provides clear, if extensive, procedures for compliance thereto, and strict compliance is mandatory. Furthermore, SEQRA procedures call for the naming of a lead agency and then for said agency to classify the action, and ultimately issue either a positive declaration (requiring an environmental impact statement) or a negative declaration (not requiring an environmental impact statement). Moreover, paragraph (G) of § 250–99 of Local Law No. 4 prohibited the ingress, egress, and transport of minerals on Town roads. As the court found that this section of Local Law No. 4 usurped powers reserved under SEQRA, it was determined to be facially flawed and, thus needed to be annulled.

The taxpayer petitioners next argued that Local Law No. 4 eliminated affordable housing options for socioeconomically challenged residents and migrant workers, claiming that mobile homes were eliminated as a permitted use in agricultural districts. The court rejected this contention, finding Local Law No. 4 expressly provided for the permitted use of mobile homes in the residential agricultural district. Since there was no evidence in the record that people of low or moderate income were excluded from housing, the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the taxpayer petitioners’ cause of action was affirmed, and the constitutionality of Local Law No. 4 was upheld.

Troy Sand & Gravel Co v Town of Sand Lake, 2020 WL 421033 (NYAD 3 Dept 7/23/2020)

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