In a recent ruling, the Supreme Court, New York County, held that neither the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) nor the City Environmental Quality Review (“CEQR”) require a lead agency to consider aggregate potential environmental impacts from possible future zoning changes when evaluating a discrete, small scale zoning change. In Williamsburg Community Preservation Coalition v. The Council of the City of New York, 108560/11, NYLJ 1202558151286 at *1 (Sup. Ct. NY Co. Decided May 9, 2012), petitioner, Williamsburg Community Preservation Coalition sought a judgment, pursuant to Article 78 of the CPLR, annulling the approval of the City Planning Commission (“CPC”) of an application by respondent J.B.J. LLC (“JBJ”) to rezone 15 tax lots in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. JBJ, which owns eight of the fifteen tax lots, filed an application seeking to rezone the subject area from a manufacturing zone to a mixed-use district. The rezoning would allow JBJ to build a six-story development consisting of two buildings, and featuring retail space, subterranean parking, and a total of 79 dwelling units, in an area that previously permitted only industrial uses and limited commercial and community facility uses. The Department of City Planning, acting as the lead agency, conducted a review of the application under the requirements of SEQRA and CEQR and issued a negative declaration on September 13, 2010, concluding that the proposed action would have no significant adverse effect on the quality of the environment. The rezoning was subsequently approved by the CPC and the City Council. Petitioner sued to invalidate the rezoning on the grounds that the City, among other things, failed to comply with the substantive requirements of SEQRA and CEQR. However, petitioner did not offer any expert opinion identifying any significant adverse environmental impact that had not been identified by the City. Rather, Petitioner argued that the City failed to aggregate the impact on the environment of subsequent rezonings that could potentially be influenced by the rezoning of the 15 subject lots. Petitioner argued that the City should have denied the application, referred the proposed project to the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals for a variance, and reserved any zoning amendments in the area until the City undertook a larger study of more sweeping zoning changes that could affect a larger area. The Court rejected petitioner’s claim, noting that petitioner was essentially arguing that the City should have made different policy choices and allocated its resources differently, and held that that nothing in SEQRA or CEQR requires the City to aggregate possible future zoning changes when evaluating a discrete, small scale zoning change.
The Court’s ruling is notable, because is established that the “hard look” required under SEQRA and CEQR does not require the lead agency to speculate on the impacts that might arise in connection with potential future rezonings.