The Comprehensive Plan’s Essential Role in Zoning

July 26, 2018

A zoning regulation that is not adopted in accordance with a comprehensive plan is vulnerable to a court challenge.

One of the most basic principles of zoning law is that a local government’s zoning must be “in accordance with a comprehensive plan.” In this regard, it is important to keep in mind that a zoning ordinance is not the comprehensive plan itself; rather, as numerous courts and commentators have pointed out, a municipality’s zoning rules must be “consonant with a total planning strategy,” reflecting consideration of the needs of the community. The New York Court of Appeals explained 50 years ago, in Udell v. Haas, 21 N.Y.2d 463 (1968), that a comprehensive plan is the “essence of zoning.” Without it, the Court added, “there can be no rational allocation of land use.”

Although state law requires comprehensive plans, see, e.g., Town Law § 272-a, it may not necessarily be obvious at first glance what constitutes a local government’s comprehensive plan. In Udell, the Court observed that New York courts have not equated the term “comprehensive plan” with any particular document. Similarly, the statutory definition in Town Law § 272-a(2)(a) states that a comprehensive plan “means the materials, written and/or graphic, including but not limited to maps, charts, studies, resolutions, reports and other descriptive material that identify the goals, objectives, principles, guidelines, policies, standards, devices and instruments for the immediate and long-range protection, enhancement, growth and development of the town located outside the limits of any incorporated village or city.”

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, July 25, 2018, Vol 260 – No. 17

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