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Jewish Day School May Proceed With New Construction

In Westchester Day School vs. Village of Mamaroneck ("WDS")(2002 U.S. Dist LEXIS 23794), the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York held that the Orthodox day school could proceed with plans to construct a new school building.

Since 1948, WDS held a special permit to operate a school on a 25.75-acre property in Mamaroneck. In October 2001, WDS submitted an application for a modification of its special permit to allow it to construct a new classroom structure to connect two of the existing school buildings and to renovate two of the school buildings. Public hearings on the application were held. During this time, the Zoning Board of Appeals ("ZBA") requested and received comments from professional planning and traffic engineering consultants as well as from various agencies and acted as the lead agency for purposes of the State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA").

On February 7, 2002, the five member Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously in declaring that no significant adverse environmental impacts would result and that no Environmental Impact Statement ("EIS") process would be required.

Shortly thereafter, an outcry of community opposition arose and on April 4, 2002, the ZBA voted unanimously to hold a rehearing to review its initial determination. During the rehearing period, additional public hearings were held. In two separate votes, the ZBA, under two separate statutes both reversed and upheld its previous decision. WDS appealed the matter and sought summary judgment.

After a lengthy analysis, the U.S. District Court held that, even though the court was "reluctant to upset the determinations of a specialist administrative board," in this case the ZBA was considering rescinding its initial ruling not because of new information but "in response to belated public outcry. Such rescission did not satisfy the requirements of the applicable statute."

The court held that "the record reveals that none of the concerns defendants raise in support of their argument that the ZBA's decision to rescind was rational and supported by substantial evidence rise to the level of a substantive change or new information." Accordingly, the court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the Westchester Day School.

About the Author

Daniel Pollack, MSW, JD is Associate Professor at Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University, New York City, NY.

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