Supreme Court Upholds Village of Southampton Zoning Board of Appeals Determination

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Applicants sought to subdivide two lots located at 550 Hill Street and 554 Hill Street in the Village of Southampton into three residential lots with a 25 foot wide access easement along the southerly side of an adjoining property to provide access to one lot from Captains Neck Lane. The two lots proposed to be subdivided are long and narrow lots comprised of 23,070 square feet and 48,284 square feet respectively, located in a split zoning district (R-40 and R-120). The proposed subdivision required lot area, lot width, lot frontage and setback relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals (hereinafter “ZBA”). 554 Hill Street is improved with a pre-existing, nonconforming, industrial storage and warehouse that is actively used by a moving and storage company. The ZBA granted the relief required to subdivide the two lots into three and neighboring property owners (hereinafter “petitioners”) appealed the determination in an Article 78 Proceeding.

The petitioners argued that the pre-existing, nonconforming storage and warehouse use on the property was more benign than the proposed conforming, residential use. Additionally, they argued that the proposed three-lot subdivision and resultant increase in density would create a nuisance to neighbors and violate the Village Comprehensive Plan to maintain small scale development. Petitioners further argued that the ZBA exercised legislative powers by re-zoning the property under the guise of granting variances. The 550 Hill Street lot is pre-existing, nonconforming with respect to lot area at 43,242 square feet since it is located in the R-120 Zoning District which requires 120,000 square feet per lot. The 552 Hill Street lot is 79,884 square feet located in both the R-40 and R-120 zoning districts. Thus, petitioners asserted the approved subdivision lots deviated so substantially from the minimum lot areas and setbacks required in the R-40 and R-120 zoning districts that it constituted a re-zoning of the lots. Finally, petitioners asserted that the ZBA failed to consider the five factors required by Village Law and requested that the determination be annulled and set aside.

The Supreme Court Suffolk County, in the Matter of Ruttenberg et al. v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Village of Southampton, 550 Hill Street, LP, and 554 Hill Street LP, dated May 18, 2020, upheld the Zoning Board’s determination. The Court noted that the central issue posed by petitioners was “whether the ZBA, in granting the area variances, effectively re-zoned the two lots and, thereby, impermissibly exercised legislative powers.” The Court disagreed, relying in part on the Zoning Board’s determination that “there are only one or two lots in the neighborhood that conform to the current zoning, and that the majority of the lots within the surrounding R-40 zone are generally smaller than the required 40,000 square feet and have an average lot size of approximately 34,465 square feet.”

The Court referred to the broad discretion afforded to local Zoning Boards and found that, (i) the ZBA considered each of the five statutory factors of the area variance balancing test, (ii) the ZBA’s conclusions were supported by ample evidence and had a rational basis, and (iii) the ZBA’s actions were not arbitrary and capricious. The Court upheld the ZBA determination and denied the Petition.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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