Appellate Court Finds Action Did Not Meet Exception To The Mootness Doctrine And That Town Violated Open Meetings Law

In 2011, respondent New York Safety Track LLC applied for site plan approval from respondent Town of Harpersfield Planning Board to convert a former airport property to a motorcycle safety training facility.  The Planning Board’s minutes show that the Board conditionally approved the proposed site plan, and that the facility was completed thereafter. After receiving numerous complaints from neighbors that the facility was hosting large, high-speed racing events, respondent Town of Harpersfield Code Enforcement Officer (“CEO”) advised Safety Track that its advertised racing and large events were not authorized uses under the site plan that had been approved by the Planning Board.  A few weeks later, the CEO, Planning Board, Town of Harpersfield and Safety Track executed an “Agreement for Operation of New York Safety Track” (“2013 agreement”) and an events calendar for the 2013 facility's season, which purported to outline Safety Track's approved land uses for May 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013.  A group of concerned landowners brought a CPLR Article 78 proceeding challenging the agreement, and the Supreme Court issued a judgment holding that Petitioners' challenge to the then-expired 2013 agreement was not moot, annulled it, and made declarations regarding the scope of Safety Track's permissible land uses.  Respondents appealed.

The Appellate Division, Third Department began by noting that where the passage of time or a change in circumstances prevents a court from rendering a decision that would effectively determine an actual controversy, the claim must be dismissed.  Here, the 2013 agreement pertained solely to Safety Track's land uses and events that occurred during the 2013 track season and expired at the end of that year, thus rendering the challenges to the 2013 agreement moot.  Furthermore, the Supreme Court did not err in finding that the Town violated the Open Meetings Law several times leading up to the execution of the 2013 agreement, nor in awarding Petitioners reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. This reflects that the Town's conduct denied Petitioners “any meaningful participation” in the process leading to the final adoption of the 2013 agreement, in clear contravention of Public Officers Law § 103(e). For these reasons, the court dismissed the appeal and modified the underlying judgment to the extent that it annulled the 2013 agreement.

The case was Ballard v New York Safety Track, LLC, 126 A.D.3d 1073 (3d Dep’t 2015).

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