Court Overturns Zoning Board’s Interpretation of “Auditorium”

The Washington Avenue Armory, once literally an armory, is now a prominent venue in Albany. Zoned as an auditorium in a commercial zone, the Armory has hosted concerts, sporting events, and even the World Wide Wrestling Federation (decades before its current incarnation as the WWE). Following multiple cease and desist orders regarding events held at the Armory, the owners of the armory (“petitioners” ) entered into a memorandum of understanding the with City under which it would submit an application for a clarification on the acceptable uses of the property. As part of that determination, the Board of Zoning appeals ruled the "use of the facility for a 'Rave' party, nightclub, dance club or other similar event is excluded from the definition of an '[a]uditori[um]' and thus [is] an illegal use." The petitioner then commenced an Article 78 proceeding against the Zoning Board of Appeals. The Supreme Court ruled for the Board, but the Appellate Division, Third Department reversed.

Reviewing the decision, the Appellate Division noted that the petitioners had applied to use the venue for “musical entertainment,” a category which includes events in which those attending are standing for the entire event. The Court ruled that denying this use based solely upon the word “auditorium,” which is not defined in the zoning ordinance, was unacceptable. Even though the Zoning Board had looked at the plain meaning and dictionary definition, it simply picked the definition that fit with its perspective, while ignoring those which did not. Ambiguity in the zoning ordinance must be resolved in favor of the petitioner, and thus the Court reversed the board’s ruling.

The case is Albany Basketball & Sports Corporation v. City of Albany, 2014 WL 1316331 (App. Div. 2014). The opinion can be accessed at:

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