Countryman v. Schmitt

Decision Date05 February 1998
Citation176 Misc.2d 736,673 N.Y.S.2d 521
Parties, 1998 N.Y. Slip Op. 98,176 Lee T. COUNTRYMAN, Petitioner, v. Terri SCHMITT as Town Supervisor of Town of Rush, et al., Respondents.
CourtNew York Supreme Court

John M. Owens, Rochester, for petitioner.

Michael Tobin, Honeoye Falls, for respondents.


In this CPLR article 78 proceeding, petitioner, Lee T. Countryman, seeks annulment of Local Law # 2, adopted by respondent Rush Town Board on April 9, 1997. Petitioner contends that respondents, in adopting Local Law # 2, failed to comply with the notice requirements of the Town Law and the Municipal Home Rule Law, that the law results in an unconstitutional taking of his property, and that the law violates his rights to equal protection of law, as guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions. For the reasons that follow, the court converts the CPLR article 78 proceeding to a declaratory judgment action, see CPLR 103(c); Matter of Lee v. La Brake, 222 A.D.2d 1050, 1051, 635 N.Y.S.2d 866 (4th Dept.1995); Matter of Committee to Preserve the Character of Skaneateles, 187 A.D.2d 940, 591 N.Y.S.2d 648 (4th Dept.1992); Bakery Salvage Corporation v. City of Buffalo, 175 A.D.2d 608, 609, 573 N.Y.S.2d 788 (4th Dept.1991), and declares Local Law # 2 unconstitutional.


The facts are generally undisputed. On August 14, 1996, several months after Congress enacted the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 U.S.C. § 332(c)(7)(A), the Rush Town Board imposed a six-month moratorium on the erection of telecommunication towers within the town. During that moratorium period, the Town Board, after consulting with the Planning and Zoning Boards, drafted Local Law # 1, entitled "Telecommunication Towers," which provides that no communication tower shall be erected unless a special use permit is issued by the Planning Board.

The stated purpose of Local Law # 1, which sets forth conditions upon which the Planning Board may issue special use permits, is "to promote the health, safety and general welfare of the residents of the Town of Rush, to provide standards for the safe provision of telecommunications consistent with applicable Federal and State regulations, and to protect the natural features and aesthetic character of the Town of Rush with special attention to open space, vistas, farm land, and wooded areas."

Shortly after Local Law # 1 was enacted, a second law (Local Law # 2) was proposed to modify the provisions of the Town Code relating to the issuance of special use permits for telecommunication towers. Specifically, Local Law # 2 modified subsection (D) of Section 99-29A, entitled Special Use Permit Regulations, to include the following provisions:

2. Location

Applicants for telecommunication towers shall locate, erect and site said towers in accordance with the following priorities (One (1) being the highest priority and six (6) being the lowest priority):

1. on existing towers or structures;

2. on Town of Rush properties;

3. on Rush Fire Department properties;

4. in limited industrial districts;

5. in commercial districts;

6. in residential districts.

Upon filing an application for a permit for a tower, the applicant shall submit a report demonstrating the applicant's review of the above locations in order of priority demonstrating technologically the reason for the site selection. If the site selection is not highest priority, then an explanation as to why sites of a higher priority were not selected should be included with the application.

Notwithstanding the above, the Planning Board may approve any site located within an area in the above list of priority areas if the alternate site provides reasonable services and meets the minimum needs of the service provider and the Board, in writing, finds it is in the best interest of the service provider and health, safety and welfare of the Town of Rush.

The applicant shall, in writing, identify and disclose the number of locations of any additional sites that the applicant is or will be considering, reviewing, or planning for telecommunication towers in the Town of Rush, and all towns adjacent to Rush, for a two year period from the date of this application.

Petitioner commenced this proceeding on August 29, 1997, alleging that Local Laws # 1 and # 2 were adopted in violation of lawful procedure and that Local Law # 2 is unconstitutional. In opposition to the petition, respondents submitted an answer, verified by respondent Schmitt, an affidavit from respondent Schmitt, an affidavit from the Deputy Town Clerk, minutes of all the relevant public hearings and Town Board meetings, and copies of the legal notices published with respect to the challenged laws. Both sides have submitted a memorandum of law.

I. Statutory Notice Issues

Portion of opinion rejecting statutory claims deleted for publication.

II. Constitutional Issues

Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of Local Law # 2, which prioritizes locations for telecommunication towers in the Town of Rush. Lowest on the priority list are locations in residential districts, where petitioner's property is situated. Petitioner contends that Local Law # 2 results in an unconstitutional taking of his property and deprives him of equal protection of law. "A landowner who claims that land regulation has effected a taking of his property bears the heavy burden of overcoming the presumption of constitutionality that attaches to the regulation and of proving every element of his claim beyond a reasonable doubt." de St. Aubin v. Flacke, 68 N.Y.2d 66, 68, 505 N.Y.S.2d 859, 496 N.E.2d 879 (1986). See Northern Westchester Professional Park Assoc. v. Town of Bedford, 60 N.Y.2d 492, 500, 470 N.Y.S.2d 350, 458 N.E.2d 809 (1983).

In the context of a newly enacted restriction, 1 three scenarios are posited in the caselaw, the first two of which are per se rules. There are "two discrete categories of regulatory action ... [that are] compensable without case-specific inquiry into the public interest advanced in support of the restraint." Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, 505 U.S. 1003, 1015, 112 S.Ct. 2886, 2893, 120 L.Ed.2d 798 (1992). "The first encompasses regulations that compel the property owner to suffer a physical 'invasion' of his property ... no matter how minute the intrusion, and no matter how weighty the purpose behind it." Id. 505 U.S. at 1015, 112 S.Ct. at 2893. See Matter of Gazza v. N.Y.S. Dept. of Environ. Conserv., 89 N.Y.2d 603, 616, 657 N.Y.S.2d 555, 679 N.E.2d 1035 (1997). Petitioner does not make a claim of this sort. "The second situation in which we have found categorical treatment appropriate Petitioner's claim must be considered under the second and third scenarios posited above. Petitioner wholly fails, however, to satisfy his burden to show questions of fact concerning whether he has lost all beneficial use of his land, i.e., "that the subject property cannot yield an economically reasonable return as zoned." Loujean Properties, Inc. v. Town Board of Oyster Bay, 160 A.D.2d 797, 553 N.Y.S.2d 835 (2d Dept.1990). See, Matter of National Merritt, Inc. v. Weist, 41 N.Y.2d 438, 445, 393 N.Y.S.2d 379, 361 N.E.2d 1028 (1977); Shukovsky v. Clavin, 163 A.D.2d 919, 558 N.Y.S.2d 431 (4th Dept.1990). "The mere fact that ... [he] might be able to obtain a higher return on ... [his] propert[y] if ... [it] w[as] zoned ...[differently] is insufficient." Clearwater Holding, Inc. v. Town of Hempstead, 237 A.D.2d 400, 655 N.Y.S.2d 768 (2d Dept.1997). Petitioner offers no proof regarding the value of his residential property before and after the adoption of Local Law # 2, Tilles Invest. Co. v. Town of Huntington, 137 A.D.2d 118, 122, 528 N.Y.S.2d 386 (2d Dept.1988)("In order to make the necessary showing, a landowner must offer proof of the market value of the property at the time of acquisition, and proof of the current value of the property as presently zoned."), aff'd. on other gr. 74 N.Y.2d 885, 547 N.Y.S.2d 835, 547 N.E.2d 90 (1989); Raskin v. Town of Islip, 185 A.D.2d 923, 924-25, 587 N.Y.S.2d 20 (2d Dept.1992)(need for "dollars and cents proof"); cf. Kim v. City of New York, 90 N.Y.2d at 26 n. 8, 659 N.Y.S.2d 145, 681 N.E.2d 312 (Smith, J., d issenting)("conclusory assertion that the property is 'worthless to them' is clearly insufficient").

                is where regulation denies all economically beneficial or productive use of land."  Id. 505 U.S. at 1015, 112 S.Ct. at 2893.   See Gazza, 89 N.Y.2d at 616-17, 657 N.Y.S.2d 555, 679 N.E.2d 1035.   Otherwise, when a regulation deprives a landowner only of some economically beneficial or productive use of his land, "the Fifth Amendment is violated when land-use regulation 'does not substantially advance legitimate state interests.' "  Id. 505 U.S. at 1016, 112 S.Ct. at 2894 (quoting Agins v. City of Tiburon, 447 U.S. 255, 260, 100 S.Ct. 2138, 2141, 65 L.Ed.2d 106 (1980)).  See Gazza, 89 N.Y.2d at 616, 657 N.Y.S.2d 555, 679 N.E.2d 1035;  Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation v. New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal, 87 N.Y.2d 325, 335, 639 N.Y.S.2d 293, 662 N.E.2d 773 (1995);   Manocherian v. Lenox Hill Hospital, 84 N.Y.2d 385, 392, 618 N.Y.S.2d 857, 643 N.E.2d 479 (1994);  Seawall Associates v. City of New York, 74 N.Y.2d 92, 107 & n. 6, 544 N.Y.S.2d 542, 542 N.E.2d 1059 (1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 976, 110 S.Ct. 500, 107 L.Ed.2d 503 (1989).  A determination whether this third manner of taking has occurred must be fact specific, and requires a balancing of " '[t]he economic impact of the regulation on the claimant and ... the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations' " or other impairment of "noneconomic interests in land" against the public interests advanced by the state in support of the regulation.  Id. 505 U.S. at 1019 n. 8, 112 S.Ct. at 2895 n .8 (quoting  Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U.S. 104, 124, 98 S.Ct.

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