Is Prior Precedent Dead in the Village of Southampton? Depends on Who You Ask.
January 09, 2023
Recently, the Suffolk County Supreme Court affirmed the Southampton Village Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) denial of a special permit to subdivide the subject property into two residential lots in the Village’s Office District. In 99 Sanford Place LLC, v Zoning Board of Appeals of the Incorporated Village of Southampton, (Sup. Ct. Suffolk County. Sept. 20, 2022) Justice Linda Kevins dismissed an Article 78 petition that asked the court to annul the ZBA’s 2021 denial of the special permit despite a remarkably similar application that was granted across the street for the same kind of residential use in the Village’s Office District.
As previously discussed in this blog, classification of a use as allowable by special permit is “tantamount to a legislative finding that the permitted use is in harmony with the general zoning plan and will not adversely affect the neighborhood.” See, e.g., 7-Eleven v. Inc. Vill. of Mineola, 127 A.D.3d 1209 [2d Dep’t 2015] (affirming grant of Article 78 petition where the record contained “no evidence that the petitioners’ proposed use of the premises would have a greater impact . . . than any as-of-right use”).
Faced with its own prior precedent in favor of granting the requested special use permit, the ZBA nevertheless denied the application, concluding that 99 Sanford’s proposed two residential uses would more adversely impact the neighborhood than office use. The Village’s ZBA’s denial of 99 Sanford Place LLC eight-page denial of the special permit was not supported by any factual findings or evidence to support this conclusion. Instead, the ZBA merely regurgitated the statutory criteria for granting a special permit and found in merely two paragraphs that “it has not been established to the [ZBA] that the particular criteria set forth within the Village Code have been met by the presentation of the applicant.” The ZBA did not distinguish its prior precent for granting similar relief across the street, which was made part of the record by petitioner’s counsel.
Among the various arguments made by the petitioner in its Article 78, the strongest argument was that “a decision of an administrative agency which neither adheres to its own precedent nor indicates a reason for reaching a different result on essentially the same facts, is arbitrary and capricious.” See, Knight v. Amelkin 68 NY2d 975, 977 . The petitioner went on to argue that the ZBA failed to follow its prior determinations that granted similar application in the village with little to no factual findings or evidence
But that is not how the Court saw it, and despite expressly finding that 99 Sanford’s submissions in this action “are sufficient to meet [its] burden” to “prove the allegations in [its] petition,” the court dismissed the Petition.
Against all odds and with great deference to the municipality, the Court found no merit to petitioner’s argument that the ZBA failed to follow its own prior precedent and summarily affirmed the ZBA’s denial of the special use permit application with no supporting evidence in the denial. Remarkably, the court went on to find that although the ZBA is bound to follow its own precedent, it determined that the prior grant for the same relief was sufficiently distinguishable from the present case despite there being nothing in the decision of the ZBA to support that finding.
On December 30, 2022, the petitioner filed a motion for leave to reargue. Stay tuned for more updates.