September 1, 2016

In Biggs v. Zoning Board of Appeals of the Town of Pierrepont, 52 Misc.3d 694 (Sup.Ct.St.Lawrence Co., decided April 27, 2016) the Court reversed the Zoning Board of Appeals, finding that firewood processing was not permitted in the residential zoning district.

The Petitioner (Frederick & Patricia Biggs) resided at the property adjacent to Duane and Helen Curtis’ property.  Both properties were located in the rural residential (R-R) zoning district.  Logs were transported onto the Curtis property from other locations, processed into firewood by use of a mechanical wood processor, and then trucked off-site for sale.  Biggs filed a zoning complaint and the Code Enforcement Officer did not find any violation.  Biggs timely appealed that determination to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and the ZBA determined that the Curtis’ firewood processing and related activities were classified as “Forestry” under the [Zoning] Regulations, which is a permitted use in the R–R district.

The Court examined the Zoning Code as a whole and compared the definition of “Forestry,” which is permitted in the R-R district, with the definition of “Natural Resource Based Industry,” which is not permitted in the R-R district.  Applying general rules of statutory construction, the Court found that “Forestry” was limited to trees sourced on the same property on which they were being processed, whereas Natural Resource Based Industry applied more generally to trees sourced from other properties as well.  The court also found that, when considering the Zoning Regulations as a whole, the ongoing use of a mechanical wood processor is a “nuisance-prone activity” that would be better suited to the Open Countryside District and Agricultural District in which Natural Resource Based Industry is permitted.

Based on the foregoing, the Court concluded that the “ZBA’s determination that Curtis’ “firewood processing” falls within the definition of “Forestry” is contrary to the Regulations and is, therefore, irrational and unreasonable, and properly annulled.”

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