Appellate Court Affirms Overturning of ZBA Determination

Local zoning boards have broad discretion in considering applications for variances.   Review of Zoning Board of Appeals decisions by judges is limited to deciding whether the Board’s action was “illegal, arbitrary, or an abuse of discretion.”  [1]    If a zoning board decision has a rational basis and is not arbitrary or capricious, the reviewing judge is bound to sustain the Board’s determination. 

In reviewing a variance request, a ZBA is required by state law to engage in a balancing test, weighing the benefit to the applicant against the detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood or community if the variance is granted.   The Board must apply five factors in rendering a determination regarding an area variance request:  (1) whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or a detriment to nearby properties will be created by the granting of the area variance; (2) whether the benefit sought by the applicant can be achieved by some method, feasible for the applicant to pursue, other than an area variance; (3) whether the requested area variance is substantial; (4) whether the proposed variance will have an adverse effect or impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood or district; and (5) whether the alleged difficulty was self-created, which consideration shall be relevant to the decision of the board of appeals, but shall not necessarily preclude the granting of the area variance."  [2]

Applicant Quintana requested a lot depth area variance from the Village of Muttontown Board of Zoning Appeals (“ZBA”).   Presumably, Quintana desired to build a structure too close to his property boundary line, but the court decision does not provide details.    The ZBA denied the variance, determining that the variance was “self-created” and was “substantial.”    Quintana filed an Article 78 petition, challenging the ZBA’s denial.  The trial judge reversed the ZBA and ordered that the variance must be granted.  The ZBA appealed to the Appellate Division, which sustained the trial judge’s finding. 

The Appellate Division found that the ZBA’s decision was “irrational,” since it rested largely on subject considerations of “general community opposition.”   Further, the Court faulted the ZBA’s determination that the benefit sought (i.e., the lot depth variance) could be achieved by a feasible alternative method did not have a rational basis in the record.  Finally, the Appellate Division agreed with the trial judge that there was no evidence that granting the variance would produce an undesirable change in the character of the neighborhood, adversely impact physical and environmental conditions, or otherwise result in a detriment to the health, safety, and welfare of the neighborhood or community.

Bottom Line:  While reviewing judges give considerable deference to the decisions made by zoning boards, there are instances where a judge has set aside a ZBA determination that was “irrational” or “not supported by the record.”

[1] Matter of Quintana v. Board of Zoning Appeals of Inc. Vil. Of Muttontown, 120 AD3d 1248 (2nd Dept 9/10/14)
[2]  Matter of Quintana, 120 AD3d at 1249, citing Village Law § 7-712-b[3][b].

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