This post was authored by Christopher Guercio, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Touro Law Center
Symphony Property Management LLC and Michigan-Rev LLC (developers) owned several parcels of land in Buffalo. The developers proposed building stacked residential buildings on the parcels of land, which are contiguous, and are located within two separate zoning districts. Some of the land falls within a mixed use zone, while the rest falls within a residential only zone. To move forward with this project, the developers needed to secure certain area variances. Yielding to concerns raised at prior zoning meetings, the developers submitted a final site which called for building 133 total units with design elements that would conform to nearby existing structures in an attempt to blend in with the character of the surrounding neighborhood. The ZBA granted the necessary variances. In addition, the ZBA granted a negative declaration pursuant to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).
The plaintiff, Gidney, appealed and the trial court upheld the ZBA’s decision to grant the variances. She appealed again alleging that the ZBA’s granting of the variances lacked a rational basis and was not supported by substantial evidence. The court determined that this was not the case. in Matter of Pecoraro v Board of Appeals of Town of Hempstead, that court stated “local zoning boards have broad discretion in considering applications for area variances and the judicial function in reviewing such decisions is a limited one. Courts may set aside a zoning board determination only where the record reveals that the board acted illegally or arbitrarily or abused its discretion.” Additionally, in Matter of Conway v Town of Irondequoit Zoning Bd. of Appeals the court held that “a reviewing court may not substitute its judgment for that of the ZBA, even if there is substantial evidence supporting a contrary determination.” Citing both above cases, and upon review of the records of the zoning board, the court concluded that the ZBA’s granting of the variances was not illegal, arbitrary, or an abuse of discretion since the developers met the burden of showing the existing zoning regulations caused unnecessary hardship, that the hardship would prevent a reasonable return of their property, and that it was unique to their property. Additionally, the variances would not alter the characteristics of the neighborhood.
The court also determined that the ZBA complied with the requirements of SEQRA when the zoning board issued the negative declaration. The court found that the ZBA followed the required steps in identifying the relevant environmental concerns, looked carefully into those concerns, and then made a reasoned basis for its determination. When the proper steps are fulfilled, the court will not second-guess a zoning board’s determination of declaration.
Gidney v. Zoning Board of Appeals of City of Buffalo, 2022 WL 4591479 (NYAD 4 Dept. 9/30/2022)