Young Men's Christian Ass'n of Greater Rochester v. Town of Milo, 6:20-CV-07006 EAW

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of New York
Writing for the CourtELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, Chief Judge
Citation563 F.Supp.3d 71
Parties YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF GREATER ROCHESTER, Plaintiff, v. TOWN OF MILO, Town of Milo Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Milo Zoning Board of Appeals Members Phil Riehl, Terry Jensen, Ben Sward, Jake Reddout, P. Earle Gleason, Donald Will, Jared Webster, and Town of Milo Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Zladzic, in their official capacities, Defendants.
Docket Number6:20-CV-07006 EAW
Decision Date28 September 2021

563 F.Supp.3d 71

YOUNG MEN'S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION OF GREATER ROCHESTER, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF MILO, Town of Milo Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Milo Zoning Board of Appeals Members Phil Riehl, Terry Jensen, Ben Sward, Jake Reddout, P. Earle Gleason, Donald Will, Jared Webster, and Town of Milo Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Zladzic, in their official capacities, Defendants.

6:20-CV-07006 EAW

United States District Court, W.D. New York.

Signed September 28, 2021


563 F.Supp.3d 74

James P. Nonkes, Joseph D. Picciotti, Harris Beach PLLC, Pittsford, NY, for Plaintiff.

Kevin George Cope, Webster Szanyi, LLP, Buffalo, NY, for Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

ELIZABETH A. WOLFORD, Chief Judge

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Young Men's Christian Association of Greater Rochester ("Plaintiff" or "YMCA") brings the instant lawsuit against defendants the Town of Milo (the "Town"), the Town of Milo Zoning Board of Appeals (the "ZBA"), Town of Milo ZBA members Phil Riehl, Terry Jensen, Ben Sward, Jake Reddout, P. Earle Gleason, Donald Will, Jared Webster, and Town of Milo Code Enforcement Officer Anthony Zladzic1 (the "CEO") (collectively, "Defendants"), challenging the ZBA's Resolution and Decision dated April 28, 2020, and alleging violation of its rights pursuant to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000cc, et seq. (Dkt. 1-1 at 4-21). Presently before the Court is Defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Dkt. 7).

For the reasons discussed below, Defendants’ motion is denied. In addition, the Court directs the parties to each file written memoranda within thirty (30) days of the entry of this Decision and Order, explaining why Plaintiff's first and second causes of action should not be dismissed without prejudice and remanded to state court, with Plaintiff's RLUIPA claim stayed pending a resolution of the state claims.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from Plaintiff's complaint. (Dkt. 1-1 at 4-21 (the "complaint")). As is required at this stage of the proceedings, the Court treats Plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations as true.

The YMCA

The YMCA is a non-for-profit, Christian charitable organization established in the Rochester, New York region over 164 years ago, and its mission is "to place Christia[n] principles into practice through its programs for the community to build a healthy spirit, mind, and body for all." (Complaint at ¶¶ 1, 14). The YMCA has owned and operated Camp Cory (the "camp") since at least 1921, and the camp is comprised of approximately 27.7 acres of land located on East Lake Road in the Town of Milo, New York. (Id. at ¶ 15). The camp borders Keuka Lake and is located in the Lakefront Residential Zoning District. (Id. ).

Since its inception, the camp has conducted activities and programs on camp property, including day camping and overnight camping between May and September each year, as well as various other forms of camping and programs when day and overnight camping are not taking place. (Id. at ¶ 16). The YMCA has also historically rented or permitted the camp's facilities to be used by community organizations for short-term uses that further

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the YMCA's charitable and religious mission, including hosting weekend retreats for Girl Scout troops, elementary and high school classes, family groups, religious groups, groups of special needs children, and events for YMCA members. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18). Plaintiff alleges that these retreats and rentals are "accessory uses that are customarily incidental to Camp Cory's primary use as a summer day and overnight youth camp," and that these retreats and rentals constitute less than 10 percent of the camp's revenue. (Id. at ¶ 19).

The Town of Milo Zoning Law

Section 350-18 of the Town of Milo Zoning Law (the "Zoning Law") permits three principal uses in the Lakefront Residential Zoning District: (1) dwelling, single-unit; (2) farm operation, excluding livestock; and (3) park. (Id. at ¶ 20). Section 250-18(D) also permits special uses in the Lakefront Residential Zoning District, including "camp, child overnight" and "camp, summer day." (Id. ). Zoning Law Section 350-18(c)(1) allows property owners the right to conduct "accessory uses," which are "incidental to a permitted use." (Id. at ¶ 21). Section 350-177 of the Zoning Law states that "[a]ny use authorized by a special use shall be deemed a permitted use" and therefore "the Zoning Law provides that property owners operating pursuant to a special use permit are authorized to conduct accessory uses." (Id. ). Further, "accessory uses are provided to property owners elsewhere in a Zoning Law provision that governs all uses, with no exclusion for special uses." (Id. at ¶ 22). The Zoning Law was enacted on November 1, 1974, and thereafter it was repealed and Local Law No. 1, 2016 was enacted with new zoning provisions. (Id. at ¶ 23).

While the YMCA's operation of the camp property pre-dates the Zoning Law, the camp is located in a district that explicitly provides for such camps pursuant to special use permits, and it is therefore "a pre-existing conforming use under Zoning Law Section 350-35(D)." (Id. ). It has never been a pre-existing nonconforming use. (Id. at ¶ 24). The special use permit for the original camp property was granted several decades ago and remains in effect. (Id. at ¶ 26).

Expansion of the Camp

In 2018, the YMCA completed an expansion of the then-existing camp property after receiving two adjacent properties from community members and completing the construction of new buildings, including a 40-by-80 foot barn with space for activities, restrooms, camp offices, and an infirmary. (Id. at ¶ 27). The new building, called the "Barn Building," doubled the day camp capacity for the camp, allowing the YMCA to serve more camping participants and better serve the community. (Id. ).

On May 8, 2018, the Town of Milo Planning Board (the "Planning Board") passed Resolution No. 2018-004, which granted the YMCA a special use permit (the "2018 special use permit") approving the expansion of the camp property. (Id. at ¶ 28). Plaintiff refers to the original camp and the expansion pursuant to the 2018 special use permit as the "Site." (Id .). The 2018 special use permit "expand[s] the current uses of the child overnight camp and summer day camp," allowed the YMCA to construct the Barn Building and other structures, and to use the Site for child overnight and summer day camp uses, along with accessory uses thereto. (Id. ). Plaintiff alleges that the Planning Board specifically found that the 2018 special use permit complied with the comprehensive plan of the Town, because it "promote[s] the retention and expansion of community recreational and cultural resources, health services and other organizations that enhance the quality of life and economic

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prosperity of the community." (Id. at ¶ 29). The special use permit listed 27 conditions for camp use from the Department of Health, but none of the conditions provided that the YMCA would no longer be authorized to engage in the accessory uses it had engaged in previously at the camp property and that are provided by the Zoning Law. (Id. at ¶¶ 30, 31). On June 24, 2019, the CEO contacted Michael P. Stevens, YMCA's Chief Strategy Officer, stating that the 2018 special use permit limits the YMCA's use of the camp solely to children's summer camp uses. (Id. at ¶ 33).

The Notice of Violation and Appeal

On September 13, 2019, the YMCA hosted a meeting of the Arts Center of Yates County in the Barn Building at the camp, which included the auction of low-cost items of art as a fundraiser for the Arts Center, which is a local, non-profit community organization whose mission it is to "enrich the lives of Yates County residents, artists and visitors by providing opportunities to actively participate in the arts." (Id. at ¶ 34). It is not a commercial business, does not operate to make a profit from its activities, and is the type of community organization "that advances the purpose of the YMCA and enhances the quality of life of the Town[.]" (Id. at ¶ 35). Plaintiff alleges that the meeting and associated fundraiser "are the very same types of accessory uses the YMCA has undertaken at Camp Cory over the last 90 plus years without incident and without any opposition[.]" (Id. ).

On September 17, 2019, the CEO issued a Notice of Violation pertaining to the September 13, 2019 Arts Center meeting held at the camp, stating that it violated the 2018 special use permit. (Id. at ¶ 36). Thereafter, on October 1, 2019, the Town Supervisor, Leslie Church, sent a letter to the YMCA explaining that the special use permit allows "camp, summer day & camp, child overnight" uses only, the legally permissible uses of the camp are limited by the New York State Department of Health, and that "art sales, rehearsal dinners, and weekend spa and wellness activities" are not permitted. (Id. at ¶ 37).

Plaintiff alleges that the Town's attempt to deprive it of its ability to exercise accessory uses at the camp "contradicts the clear provisions of the 2018 Special Use Permit, the express provisions of the Zoning Law,...

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