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Community Rights Counsel
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Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202-296-6889
Fax: 202-296-6895

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CONTACT: Doug Kendall or Tim Dowling, 202-296-6889


Community Rights Counsel (CRC) filed a brief this week in the New York Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, to preserve the right of local communities to protect their residents through reasonable zoning restrictions and other land use planning efforts.

The brief, filed on behalf of the American Planning Association, shows that courts should defer to decisions by local officials regarding how best to protect the community, and not subject those decisions to "heightened" or "strict" scrutiny in constitutional challenges by property owners.

The case -- Bonnie Briar Syndicate, Inc. v. Town of Mamaroneck -- involves a 1994 zoning ordinance enacted by the Town of Mamaroneck, N.Y. The ordinance designates about 430 acres of property as a Recreation Zone. This recreational zoning is designed to protect open space, reduce flood risks, enhance recreational opportunities, and preserve wildlife habitat. Bonnie Briar Syndicate, the owner of about 150 acres of the property, challenged the zoning ordinance even though the Syndicate may continue to use the property to operate a profitable golf course, the historic use of the property for more than 70 years.

The lower courts unanimously upheld the zoning. The Syndicate argues that the Court of Appeals should second-guess the Town's planners and overturn the zoning so that the Syndicate may pursue dense residential development of the property. If accepted by the Court, the Syndicate's argument would subject every local land use decision to heightened review by the courts and thereby reduce the authority of local officials to protect their communities by restricting harmful land use.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court's 1922 landmark zoning decision in Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., courts generally have deferred to reasonable zoning and other land use decisions by local communities. Community Rights Counsel's brief demonstrates that courts should respect the decisions of local officials and invalidate them only if they are wholly without a rational basis.

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