Village of Islandia v. Commissioner of the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets

Albany County, Supreme Court (Index No. 905550/2017E).  The Village of Islandia retained our firm to work as Special Counsel with its Village Attorney to challenge determinations by the NYS Commissioner of Agriculture and the Suffolk County Legislature that certain parcels of real property located within the Village qualify for an “agricultural” designation.  Such a designation limits the ability of local government to enforce its zoning code restrictions and regulations against the property, and limits their ability to impose real property tax assessments upon the property.  The State, County and property owner moved to dismiss the Village’s lawsuit, asserting, among other things, that the Village lacked standing and had not stated a claim.  The Albany County, Supreme Court (Lynch, J.) denied the motions to dismiss and agreed with the Village that “Clearly, limitation on local zoning enforcement may impact the community or neighborhood character, as well as change in the land use intensity, including agricultural lands; these are considered factors in assessing environmental impact.”  “It is manifest . . . that erosion of the Petitioner’s real property tax base impacts community growth and/or neighborhood character, i.e. cognizable environmental impacts.”  “The record thus evidences that Petitioner has standing to challenge Respondents’ action to include the [subject] parcels into the agricultural district.”  The Court further held that the Village had stated a claim under the State Environmental Quality Review Act because, among other things, the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) “is barren of any site-specific information, other than the tax ID number and property owner identification.  On its face, the EAF begs the question of whether Respondent has sufficient information to identify the relevant areas of environmental concern and take a hard look at them [as required by the SEQRA statute and case law].”