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State Supreme Court Annuls Town’s Spot Zoning

A Court in Madison County has annulled a local law passed in 2019 by the Town of Lenox, New York as illegal “spot zoning.” Lewis Point Neighborhood Association, Inc. v. Town of Lenox, et al, Madison County Index No. EF2019-2130 (Sup. Ct. Madison Co. July 17, 2020). The law, which was drafted to permit “campgrounds” in the Town’s Business–Recreational Zoning District, was passed in conjunction with a site plan application for an expansion of a preexisting nonconforming campground. The proposed law would also have relaxed the dimensional restrictions on campgrounds, including the limit on number of campsites per parcel.

Who Benefits from Rezoning?

The Court first restated the rule that the question of whether a municipality’s rezoning is indicative of spot zoning is answered by a determination of whether the rezoning is meant to benefit a particular individual or is consistent with the municipality’s comprehensive plan.

In addressing the first question, the Court found that the record demonstrated that the proposed law was enacted for the benefit of the existing campground owner in relation to the site plan application which violated the Town’s zoning code prior to the amendment. Evidence included

(1) a letter from the Town attorney suggesting the rezoning as a “solution” to the campground owner’s problem,

(2) a request for the rezoning by the campground owner in the minutes of a Town Board meeting, and

(3) reference to the rezoning hearing as a “public hearing for” the campground owner. The Court further observed that the failure of the Town Board to assess the impacts the rezoning would have on parcels other than that of the campground owner was indicative of the fact that the existing campground was its true concern.

Rezoning Was Not Consistent

Next the Court observed that the rezoning was not consistent with a well–considered comprehensive plan. Of special significance on that point was the fact that the Town Board, at the time of passage of the proposed law, believed that the Town had a formal written comprehensive plan, but after initiation of the lawsuit it was determined that no such plan was ever drafted. The fact that the Town Board failed to discover that the plan did not exist indicated that no effort was made to determine if the rezoning was consistent with a comprehensive plan, as any such effort would surely have revealed the lack of a plan. The only plan therefore in existence was whichever plan was utilized to zone out campgrounds initially, with which the proposed law was obviously inconsistent.

The Court also annulled a Negative Declaration under the State Environmental Quality Review Act for failing to assess the impacts the rezoning would have on parcels other than that of the existing campground.