ZONING -- HISTORIC DISTRICTS -- EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS -- MUNICIPALITIES
MUNICIPALITIES CANNOT DENY EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS THE OPPORTUNITY TO
APPLY FOR SPECIAL USE PERMITS IN HISTORIC DISTRICTS WITHOUT A CASE BY CASE
] | [ISSUE & DISPOSITION
| [AUTHORITIES CITED
] | [COMMENTARY
In 1978, the City of Schenectady ("the City") adopted an ordinance establishing
an historic district incorporating an area known as the General Electric
Realty Plot. The City adopted a new code provision in 1984, City Code §
264-8, which foreclosed all nonresidential users except public utilities
from applying for special use permits in the historic district. Property
owners could obtain a variance only if they could show "practical difficulties"
or "unnecessary hardships." Alternatively, a private party could seek an
amendment to City Code § 264-8 itself.
Union College, in November 1992, proposed that the City Code be amended
to include certain nonresidential educational uses as a special permit
use within the district. In January 1995, Union College dropped the attempt
to amend the City Code and commenced an action for declaratory judgment.
Both sides filed motions for summary judgment. The Supreme Court granted
Union College's motion and denied the cross-motion. The Appellate Division
ISSUE & DISPOSITION
Whether a municipality may enact an historic district ordinance that precludes
a balancing of interests when an educational institution applies for special
No, a municipal law denying educational institutions the opportunity to
apply for special use permits in an historic district is unconstitutional.
Cases Cited by the Court
Other Sources Cited by the Court
Art. IX § 2(c) (McKinney 1987).
Mun. Law § 119-aa (McKinney 1986).
Rec. & Hist. Preserv. Law § 14.01 (McKinney 1984).
Schenectady, N.Y., City Code § 264-8.
Schenectady, N.Y., City Code § 264-53.
Schenectady, N.Y., City Code, Art. XI (Specific Permit Uses).
Schenectady, N.Y., City Ordinance No. 78-45.
2 Rathkopf, The Law of Zoning and Planning, § 15.02 (4th ed.
DeSisto College, Inc. v. Town of Howey-In-The-Hills, 706 F. Supp.
1479 (M.D. Fla. 1989).
Trustees of Tufts College v. Medford, 616 N.E.2d 433 (Mass. 1993).
Seward Chapel, Inc. v. City of Seward, 655 P.2d 1293 (Alaska 1982).
Sisters of Bon Secours Hosp. v. City of Grosse Pointe, 154 N.W.2d
644 (Mich. Ct. App. 1967).
Urmston v. City of North College Hill, 175 N.E.2d 203 (Oh. Ct. App.
State of the Law Before Union College
Blanket exclusions of educational institutions from residential zones are
improper. Cornell University v. Bagnardi
, 68 N.Y.2d 583 (N.Y. 1986).
Noting the presumed beneficial effect of schools and churches, the court
held that the expansion plans of such institutions "require a more balanced
approach than total exclusion." Id
. at 596. The court explained
that educational institutions are in no way exempt from zoning ordinances.
. at 594. Rather, "the presumed beneficial effect may be rebutted
with evidence of a significant impact on traffic congestion, property values,
municipal services and the like." Id
. at 595. Special permits with
restrictive conditions may be required by zoning boards.
Effect of Union College on Current Law
requires local zoning ordinances to provide case by case balancing where
educational institutions are involved. Union College
at para. 10.
The municipality must weigh the educational uses against the interest in
historic preservation, as well as other legitimate, competing interests.
. Failure to perform a balancing test violates the state's delegation
to municipalities of police power to promote public health, safety, morals
or general welfare. Union College
at para. 6. A municipality cannot
decide as a matter of law that the public interest in historic preservation
of a residential neighborhood overrides competing educational interests.
at para. 9.
It is insufficient that Schenectady would allow Union College to apply
for a variance--which requires showing of practical difficulties or unnecessary
hardships--or apply for an amendment to the City Code. Neither of these
options balance educational use against the public interest in historical
preservation. Union College at para. 13. Given that the ordinance
fails to provide for a balancing of public welfare interests, it is not
substantially related to the delegated police power and is thus unconstitutional.
at para. 15.
Although the court resolves the necessity of case by case balancing of
educational interests, the court does not address other interests that
were excluded when the City Code was amended, such as religious, philanthropic
and charitable institutions. These interests also serve a role in promoting
general public welfare. Would a revised City Code that did not allow a
case by case balancing for these possible uses also be struck down as unconstitutional?
In the present case, the City Code 264-8 was facially invalid. The court
does not lay out the relative weights to be given to the competing interests
when evaluating the overall impact on public welfare of a proposed educational
use. Under what circumstances would a facially valid ordinance be deemed
unconstitutional as applied?
Survey of the Law in Other Jurisdictions
Generally, municipal zoning ordinances that affect educational institutions
require an actual balancing of the interest in protecting the residential
area versus the educational institution's intended use. In contrast, an
ordinance in Alaska was found constitutional even though the ordinance
flatly denied a church the right to build a parochial school in a residential
district. Seward Chapel, Inc. v. City of Seward
, 655 P.2d 1293 (Alaska
1982). The court said there was a constitutional difference between an
outright ban on parochial schools from any area, and a zoning scheme which
requires that such schools, like a variety of other land uses, be located
in area in which their impact on surrounding areas is lessened. This is
contrary to the decision in Union College
where the court said that
an ordinance could not facially deny an educational institution the opportunity
to apply for a special permit. It seems that in Alaska a municipality can
determine as a matter of law that the public interest in preserving a residential
neighborhood overrides competing educational interests.
In contrast, Florida requires a balancing of public interests when an
educational institution attempts to expand its administrative offices in
a residentially-zoned neighborhood. DeSisto College, Inc. v. Town of
Howey-In-The-Hills, 706 F. Supp. 1479 (M.D. Fla. 1989) (balancing is
required when an educational institution seeks to purchase a building for
administrative offices in a residential area). In Massachusetts, the challenger
of the ordinance bears the burden of proving that the ordinance is unreasonable.
The ordinance is proven unreasonable by establishing excessive cost of
compliance or by demonstrating that compliance would substantially diminish
or detract from usefulness without appreciably advancing the municipality's
legitimate concerns. Trustees of Tufts College v. Medford, 616 N.E.2d
433 (Mass. 1993).
Similar to educational institutions, other public welfare functions
cannot be prevented from purchasing and using land or buildings in residential
areas for other than residential uses without a balancing of interests.
In Sisters of Bon Secours Hosp. v. City of Grosse Pointe, 154 N.W.2d
644 (Mich. Ct. App. 1967), the court found a zoning ordinance prohibiting
hospitals in a particular residential area was without substantial relation
to health, safety, morals, or welfare of the community. However, the provisions
of the ordinance with respect to off-street parking and the height of buildings
were valid. As was expressed in Union College, public welfare functions
must be balanced against the interests associated with preserving a residential
area on a case-by-case basis.
Regina Cheung, '99
Kevin D. DeBorde, '99
Jeff L. Hogue, '99
Denise A. Johnson, '98
Daniel J. O'Rielly, '98
Joymarie Torres, '98
Kelly H. Tsai, '99