Strict Compliance with SEQRA: A Mandate Courts Enforce

September 27, 2018

When local governments fail to meet all of the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act, courts will reject their decisions and send them back to the drawing board.

Several years after the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) was enacted in 1975, Rye’s town board granted a permit to a property owner to construct an office building on close to 18 acres of town land. The board acted despite the fact that the town had not prepared an environmental impact statement (EIS) as described in SEQRA. On several occasions when considering the property owner’s application, however, the town had carefully examined environmental factors such as traffic volume, parking capacity, drainage, soil, vegetation, noise, and aesthetics.

A number of community members challenged the town board’s decision, seeking to have the construction permit set aside. They argued that the town had failed to adhere to the mandates of SEQRA.

The trial court dismissed their petition, concluding that “substantial, not strict compliance with SEQRA” was required and observing that the town had “closely examined the environmental impact factors” even without an EIS.

The Appellate Division, Second Department, reversed. In Matter of Rye Town/King Civic Association v. Town of Rye, 82 A.D.2d 474 (2d Dep’t 1981), the Second Department ruled that the town had not discharged its duties under SEQRA because it failed “to adhere to the literal requirements” of the statute, notwithstanding that it carried out extensive environmental review procedures in harmony with the spirit of the law.

Anthony S. Guardino, a partner with the law firm of Farrell Fritz, P.C., practices in the areas of land use, zoning, and environmental law. Resident in the firm’s office in Hauppauge, Long Island, he can be reached at aguardino@farrellfritz.com.

Reprinted with permission from New York Law Journal, Wednesday, September 26, 2018, Vol 260 – No. 61

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