Court Denies Neighbor Challenge to Religious School in Ramapo

In Elliot J. Cohen, et al. v. Town of Ramapo Building, Planning & Zoning Department, et al, 150 A.D.3d 993 (2nd Dept. 2017) the Appellate Division, Second Department upheld the Supreme Court’s decision to affirm the Zoning Board’s determination granting certain area variances for a religious school in Monsey.

By way of background, two neighbors appealed the Town of Ramapo Zoning Board of Appeals’ (ZBA) decision to approve certain area variances for Divrei Chaim, a yeshiva (i.e. religious school), in Monsey, New York.

The Court stated the legal standard for reviewing the ZBA’s determination as follows: (i) local zoning boards have broad discretion in considering applications for area variances; (ii) Courts may set aside a zoning board determination only where the record reveals that the board acted illegally or arbitrarily, or abused its discretion, or that it merely succumbed to generalized community pressure; (iii) a determination is rational and not arbitrary or capricious “if it has some objective factual basis, as opposed to resting entirely on subjective considerations such as general community opposition; and (iv) while religious institutions are not exempt from local zoning laws, greater flexibility is required in evaluating an application for a religious use than an application for another use and every effort to accommodate the religious use must be made.

The court applied the foregoing law to the facts of the case as follows:

“Contrary to the petitioners’ contention, the ZBA engaged in the required balancing test and considered the five relevant statutory factors in granting the application for area variances (see Town Law § 267-b[3][b]). The record reveals that the ZBA’s determination had a rational basis and was not arbitrary or capricious …. A zoning board is “not required to justify its determination with supporting evidence with respect to each of the five factors, so long as its ultimate determination balancing the relevant considerations [is] rational.”

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