S.D.N.Y. Dismisses Takings Claims as Unripe

Plaintiff owned approximately 68.4 acres in the Village of Chester.  Plaintiff consulted with Town and Village officials about developing the Property, and the Village asked Plaintiff petition to annex the Town portions of the Property into the Village. However, this would have precluded development pursuant to the Village's multi-residential zoning district (“RM zoning”) absent variances or zoning amendments, and so the Village asked Plaintiff to draft a new zoning provision, “Residential Multifamily-Neighborhood” (“RM-N”) that would be specific to this project. Plaintiff then petitioned for annexation of the Town part of the Property into the Village, which required approval under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”).  The Village approved the annexation, development plan, and RM-N proposal, but the Town Board issued its own SEQRA findings and denied the petition.

Plaintiff and the Village Board commenced, as co-petitioners, an Article 78 proceeding against the Town, seeking to annul the Town's SEQRA findings. The parties reached a settlement that, among other things, stated development of the project site would proceed upon Plaintiff’s “receipt of final, unconditional and unappealable approvals for its proposed project.” The Village Board began processing the RM-N zoning proposal and sent it to the Village Planning Board for review.  However, the Planning Board opposed the RM-N zoning and suggested that the project “could be built as planned under the existing RM multi-residential zoning.” Plaintiff claims “none of the zoning amendments proposed by the Planning Board” would have allowed the project to proceed in accordance with the FEIS and the SEQRA findings, as required by the settlement. Thus, as the Village Board did not affirmatively enact any zoning, Plaintiff argued the Property was left with “no zoning at all.” Plaintiff subsequently filed a breach of contract claim and § 1983 claim alleging violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments in NY Supreme Court, which was later removed to the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York.

There, Plaintiff claimed that absent any zoning for the newly annexed portion of the Property, it could not demonstrate that its proposal conforms to the applicable zoning regulations.  Therefore, Plaintiff was “precluded from submitting applications for any use or occupancy.” The Court found, however, that Plaintiff could have “elicited from the Planning Board the applicable requirements of site plan approval.” The Court also rejected the claim that Plaintiff’s annexation petition was a land use application for purposes of the Williamson County analysis (a test for ripeness of Fifth Amendment takings claims). Even if Plaintiff submitted a development plan that the Planning Board rejected, or if the annexation petition was a viable substitute, there was no evidence Plaintiff requested any variance or use approvals from the Zoning Board of Appeals. Finally, absent evidence that Defendants used “repetitive and unfair procedures” or “engaged in a war of attrition” against Plaintiff to avoid issuing a final decision, the Court declined to invoke the futility exception required for Plaintiff's claim to be deemed ripe for adjudication. 

The Court then granted Defendants motion to dismiss the federal claims, and remanded the state law claims to the NY Supreme Court.  Please note that this decision is currently under appeal.

The case was BT Holdings, LLC. v. Village of Chester, 2016 WL 796866 (S.D.N.Y.  February 23, 2016).

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