Fourth Department Holds Petitioners Fell Within The Zone Of Interest Protected by SEQRA And Did Not Need To Plead Or Prove Special Damage To Have Standing

Petitioners, Rochester Eastside Residents for Appropriate Development, Inc. and Igatopsfy, LLC, commenced an Article 78 proceeding seeking to annul the negative declaration issued by Respondent City of Rochester Director of Planning and Zoning under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) with respect to the proposed construction of an ALDI supermarket. The Supreme Court, Monroe County denied the petition after finding the Petitioners lacked standing.  Petitioners appealed. 

On appeal, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, found that the record established that Petitioner Igatopsfy, LLC, which owned property less than 300 feet from the property line of the proposed project, was “arguably within the zone of interest to be protected by SEQRA,” and had standing to seek judicial review without pleading and proving special damage.  The Court further found that Petitioner Rochester Eastside Residents for Appropriate Development, Inc. had “associational or organizational standing,” as two of its members owned property less than 500 feet from the property line of the proposed project.  Having met the other requirements for associational standing, the standing of these two members was deemed sufficient to grant standing to the organization.

Turning to the merits, the Court agreed with Petitioners’ claim that the negative declaration lacked a “reasoned elaboration of the basis for the determination.”  The record showed that despite undisputed evidence of preexisting soil contamination, the negative declaration set forth no findings with respect to that contamination.  Moreover, the document providing the purported reasoning for the lead agency’s determination of significance was prepared after the negative declaration was issued, violating the statutory mandate, and did not fulfill the statutory mandate.  As strict compliance with SEQRA’s procedures is mandatory, these failures mandated annulment of the lead agency’s determination. Finally, the Court noted that developer’s promise to remediate the contamination before proceeding with construction did not absolve the lead agency from its obligations under SEQRA.

Accordingly, the Court reversed, annulled the negative declaration, vacated the variances granted by the City’s ZBA, as well as the special use permit granted by respondent Rochester City Planning Commission.

The case was Rochester Eastside Residents for Appropriate Development, Inc. v City of Rochester, 150 A.D.3d 1678 (4th Dep’t 2017).

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