Law School Case Brief
N.Y. Botanical Garden v. Bd. of Standards & Appeals - 91 N.Y.2d 413, 671 N.Y.S.2d 423, 694 N.E.2d 424 (1998)
The Board of Standards and Appeals of the City of New York (BSA) is comprised of experts in land use and planning, and its interpretation of the Zoning Resolution is entitled to deference. So long as its interpretation is neither irrational, unreasonable, nor inconsistent with the governing statute, it will be upheld. Of course, this principle does not apply to purely legal determinations. Where the question is one of pure legal interpretation of statutory terms, deference to the BSA is not required. However, when applying its special expertise in a particular field to interpret statutory language, an agency's rational construction is entitled to deference.
In 1993, Fordham University applied to the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) for a permit to build a new broadcasting facility and attendant tower as an accessory use on its Rose Hill campus. The DOB issued Fordham a building permit. After construction began, the New York Botanical Garden objected to the issuance of the permit. The DOB Commissioner determined that the radio station and accompanying tower together were an accessory use within the meaning of section 12-10 of the New York City Zoning Resolution. The Botanical Garden appealed to the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) which, after reviewing numerous submissions from both parties and holding two public hearings, unanimously confirmed the Commissioner's determination. The Botanical Garden then commenced a proceeding under N.Y. C.P.L.R. 78 to annul the board's determination. On appeal, the botanical garden asserted that the tower was not clearly incidental to, and customarily found in connection with, the principal use of the university's land and, therefore, the tower was not an accessory use under N.Y. Zoning Res. 12-10.
Was BSA’s determination that the radio station and accompanying tower together were an accessory use within the meaning of section 12-10 of the New York City Zoning Resolution arbitrary or capricious?
The court held that BSA’s finding was not arbitrary or capricious or unsupported by substantial evidence. The board was comprised of land use planning experts, and their determination was entitled to deference. Furthermore, there was sufficient evidence to conclude that the university's radio operations were of a type and character customarily found on college campuses.
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