Municipalities Cannot Withhold Permits to Secure Infrastructure and Improvements
February 04, 2019
In Joy Builders, Inc. v. Town of Clarkstown, 2018 N.Y. Slip Op. 07110, 165 A.D.3d 1084 (2d Dept 2018), a developer (“Developer”), in connection with the development of two subdivisions, challenged a provision of the Town Code of the Town of Clarkstown (“Town”) which authorized the Town to withhold the issuance of building permits for a subdivision until the applicant/owner has completed the requisite infrastructure and improvements and dedicated the same to the Town. The Supreme Court, Rockland County, denied the Developer’s motion for summary judgment and the Developer appealed. The Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed and declared the Town Code provision null void and struck the subdivision conditions affected by that provision.
With respect to the Developer’s projects, the Town Planning Board had approved two subdivisions of 22-lots and 55-lots, respectively. The approvals contained a condition requiring the Developer to build certain infrastructure and post performance bonds for each project. Town Code Section 254-18B authorized the Town to withhold the issuance of building permits for 10% of the lots of each subdivision until the Developer completed and dedicated the infrastructure and improvements. The basis of the “holdback” was to ensure that applicants/owners complete the requisite work. During construction, the Town relied upon the holdback provision and withheld the issuance of buildings permits for three lots in one subdivision and six in the other. The Developer, then, commenced this action challenging the Town’s withholding and seeking a declaration that Section 254-18B was null and void.
The Appellate Division noted that towns and municipalities lack the inherent power to enact zoning or land use regulations – rather, they are creatures of statute. As such, towns may only engage the powers conferred by the State Legislature. The pertinent statute, Town Law Section 277(9) authorizes the Town to obtain enumerated forms of security in order to ensure the full cost of infrastructure and improvements in the event a developer abandons a project. However, withholding the issuance of building permits is not among these. The Court determined that Town Law Section 277 does not expressly authorized the holdback and no such authority can be implied. Therefore, Town Code Section 254-18B was inconsistent with the Town Law and the Town does not have the power to withhold building permits to provide financial security for the completion of work.
The Court declared Section 254-18B void and struck the conditions of withholding. The Court’s ruling reaffirms strict adherence to the enumerated powers for municipalities in the land use and zoning context.