Sep. 27, 2019

Whiteman Osterman & Hanna Obtains Favorable Ruling for the Town of Coxsackie

Whiteman Osterman & Hanna managing partner John J. Henry and associate Gabriella R. Levine, members of the firm’s litigation and appeals practice, recently obtained a favorable judgment dismissing a lawsuit filed against the Town of Coxsackie. The suit alleged that the Town violated the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) by adopting a local zoning law that restricted the siting of large, utility-scale solar energy systems to commercial and industrial zoning districts within the Town, in an effort to protect farmland and open space, and preserve the rural character of residential and agricultural zones. The Town was represented by partner Terresa A. Bakner on environmental, planning and land use issues relating to the adoption of the local legislation. 

In dismissing the lawsuit filed against the Town, the Court considered a novel issue of state law concerning the extent a local municipal government is required to specifically address impacts on global climate change as part of its environmental SEQRA review of a local zoning law regulating the siting of utility-scale solar energy facilities within the municipality’s borders.

The Court adopted Mr. Henry and Ms. Levine’s argument, and held that the Town’s local law was a valid exercise of its police powers under the New York Constitution, and consistent with the broad power of municipal governments to enact land use controls best suited to address zoning goals at the local level, such as the preservation of agricultural land and open space. The Court recognized that while the promotion of renewable energy is a component of New York’s statewide climate change policy, the Town’s law was not a complete ban on utility-scale solar but, rather, a restriction of that use to zoning districts in which it was most compatible. The Court further held that a reviewing court may not pass upon the underlying social or economic wisdom of a local government’s exercise of its zoning power. To do so, according to the Court, would lead to the invalidation of several environmental protection laws that give a voice to local concerns, such as local bans on hydrofracking and mining.