Court Holds Use of Property For Large Social Gatherings Was Not Subordinate Or Customarily Incidental to Single-Family Residential Use

Petitioner owned real property overlooking Lake George in the Town of Bolton, Warren County, more commonly known as Highlands Castle. In 2010, Petitioner starting advertising Highlands Castle online as a venue for weddings, corporate meetings, and similar events, describing the property as the “perfect setting for a special gathering with family and friends” or “any other meaningful ‘experience’ you can envision.” Following complaints from nearby homeowners regarding Petitioner's use of the property, the Town's Zoning Administrator issued a determination in March 2012 finding Petitioner’s rental activities did not violate the Town Code. The neighboring homeowners appealed.  After a public hearing, Respondent Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Bolton (“ZBA”) overturned Zoning Administrator’s determination. Petitioner then commenced a CPLR Article 78 proceeding to annul the ZBA determination.  The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, and the Petitioner appealed.

On appeal, the Appellate Division, Third Department noted that the ZBA’s determination was based on a finding that given how Petitioner used and marketed Highlands Castle, the challenged use of the property as a venue for weddings and similar events was neither subordinate nor customarily incidental to the property’s primary single-family residential use. The ZBA found Petitioner’s marketing evinced a clear intent to target a rental audience seeking more than just residential use of the property.  There was also no evidence that Highlands Castle had ever been rented as a single-family residence. Finally, during the public hearing, neighboring property owners testified that events held at Highlands Castle generated increased traffic, created overcrowded private roadways and often involved amplified music and announcements, which interfered with their enjoyment of their own nearby homes. Accordingly, the Court found the ZBA’s determination to be neither irrational nor unreasonable, and thus was entitled to deference and should not be disturbed.

The case was Lavender v Zoning Board of Appeals of Town of Bolton, 141 A.D.3d 970 (3d Dep’t 2016).

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