Court Overturns Planning Board’s Denial of Site Plan Based On Traffic Study and Community Opposition As Arbitrary and Capricious

In July of 2012, 7-Eleven filed a site plan application (“Application”) with the Town of Babylon (“Town”) Planning Board for a proposed store in West Babylon, New York.  7-Eleven subsequently revised the site plan to incorporate comments from the Town, and submitted expert evidence addressing the Town’s other concerns.  In particular, the Town Traffic Division issued a memo noting that all of its concerns and objections were met.  In December of 2013, the Planning Board held a public hearing on the application.  During the public hearing, community members, including a nearby 7-Eleven store owner, opposed the new store.  The Planning Board left the record open for the submission of a traffic study by 7-Eleven, and additional public comment.  After this public hearing, the Town’s Traffic Division issued a new memo outlining objections to the Application, including the number of on-site customer truck parking spaces and whether the delivery zone could accommodate a tractor-trailer.  This memo began a two-year back-and-forth between applicant and the Town, as 7-Eleven attempted to address each comment.  When pushed for an “up or down” vote on the Application, the Planning Board finally voted to deny it in August of 2016.  Both 7-Eleven and the property owner appealed to the Supreme Court, Suffolk County.

As an initial matter, the Court undertook a ripeness analysis, rejecting the Town’s claim that petitioners were required to seek a variance approval from the zoning board, even though the planning board had issued a denial. “Petitioners sought both site plan review and for a permit to commence demolition and new construction on their intended site.  Respondents granted neither application, with the practical import of each denial being that petitioners cannot move their project forward.  Thus, to conclude as respondents seek that petitioners have not yet been injured, or rather, that respondents’ determination is not yet in final form contorts logic.”

The Court the noted the similarities to 7-Eleven’s Article 78 proceeding against the Village of Mineola over its denial of a special use permit.  Here, the Town’s Planning Board, like the Board of Trustees in the Mineola case, denied the applications partly because of perceived traffic impacts from tractor-trailer deliveries and perceived noise problems from overnight deliveries, even though 7-Eleven supported both applications with affidavits stating that delivery times would be restricted, and that only box trucks would deliver to the stores.  Relying upon the Appellate Division’s decision in that case, the Court concluded that it is arbitrary and capricious for a municipality to deny a 7-Eleven store application on the grounds of tractor-trailer delivery concerns or overnight delivery concerns where 7-Eleven had filed an affidavit stating that those two events will not occur.

The Court also found that the Planning Board’s decision was irrational, arbitrary and capricious in light of the “empirical data” submitted “evidencing that the proposed use would not carry deleterious impact or effects on the adjacent residential neighborhood as far as increased traffic or public safety.”   The Court wrote that the Planning Board could not point to any contradictory “objective, factual or scientific support” to credit the concerns of the community opposition.  In sum, the Court held, “Even after giving respondents’ due deference in its expertise in local planning matters and site plan review, this Court finds that respondents did not attempt to counter petitioners’ scientific and factual evidence, but instead rather relied upon conclusory and speculative concerns to justify denial of petitioners’ application.”   Thus, the Court held municipalities could not base their decisions on the community’s political pressure or its unsubstantiated objections, or ignore traffic and engineering studies or an affidavit of the applicant in favor of its own opinions.

The case was 7-Eleven and Louhal Properties v. Town of Babylon, 2017 NY Slip Op 31467(U) (Sup. Ct. Suffolk County, July 7, 2017).

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