Fourth Department Holds Finding That Commercial Use of Mansion Would Not Yield Reasonable Return Without A Variance Lacked A Rational Basis

Petitioners, residents of the City of Jamestown (“City”), challenged the determination of Respondent City of Jamestown Zoning Board of Appeals (“ZBA”) to grant a use variance to Respondents Jamestown Community College (“JCC”) and Lynn Development, Inc. (“Lynn”), to permit the commercial use of a mansion known as Sheldon House. The Supreme Court dismissed the petition, holding that JCC and Lynn had “presented substantial evidence, especially regarding the four-pronged hardship test, providing the ZBA with a rational basis upon which to issue a variance.”  Petitioners appealed.

On appeal, Petitioners argued that JCC and Lynn failed to satisfy the four requirements for the issuance of a use variance based on unnecessary hardship, and that the court erred in deferring to the ZBA.  The Fourth Department agreed, finding that JCC and Lynn failed to present any evidence to the ZBA to satisfy the first requirement of unnecessary hardship: “that, for each and every permitted use under the zoning regulations for the particular district where the property is located, the applicant cannot realize a reasonable return and that the lack of return is substantial as demonstrated by competent financial evidence.”  Absent any evidence in dollars and cents form, the Court held there was no rational basis for the ZBA’s finding that the premises would not yield a reasonable return without the requested use variance.  Accordingly, the Court held that the ZBA’s determination should be annulled, reversing the lower court’s judgment and granting the petition.

The case was Leone v. City of Jamestown Zoning Bd. of Appeals, 151 A.D. 3d 1828 (4 Dep’t 2017).

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