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MATTER WESTCHESTER REFORM TEMPLE v. FREDERICK W. BROWN ET AL. (07/02/68)

COURT OF APPEALS OF NEW YORK 1968.NY.42494 <http://www.versuslaw.com>; 239 N.E.2d 891; 22 N.Y.2d 488 decided: July 2, 1968. IN THE MATTER OF WESTCHESTER REFORM TEMPLE, RESPONDENT,v.FREDERICK W. BROWN ET AL., CONSTITUTING THE PLANNING COMMISSION OF THE VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE, APPELLANTS; IN THE MATTER OF WESTCHESTER REFORM TEMPLE, APPELLANT, V. FRANCIS T. GRIFFIN, AS BUILDING INSPECTOR OF THE VILLAGE OF SCARSDALE, RESPONDENT Matter of Westchester Reform Temple v. Brown, 29 A.D.2d 677, affirmed. Matter of Westchester Reform Temple v. Griffin, 29 A.D.2d 672, affirmed. Counsel Richard A. Tilden for appellants in the first above-entitled proceeding. William J. Greer and Mizell Wilson, Sr., for respondent in the first above-entitled proceeding. Counsel William J. Greer for appellant in the second above-entitled proceeding. Counsel Richard A. Tilden for respondent in the second above-entitled proceeding. Keating, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Scileppi, Bergan, Breitel and Jasen concur. Author: Keating


Matter of Westchester Reform Temple v. Brown, 29 A.D.2d 677, affirmed. Matter of Westchester Reform Temple v. Griffin, 29 A.D.2d 672, affirmed.

Keating, J. Chief Judge Fuld and Judges Burke, Scileppi, Bergan, Breitel and Jasen concur.

Author: Keating

 These two appeals arise from the same set of facts.

In Brown the Westchester Reform Temple seeks affirmance of an order of the Appellate Division, Second Department (29 A.D.2d 677) which unanimously held that a Zoning Ordinance of the Village of Scarsdale, as applied to the petitioner by the Planning Commission, bore no substantial relationship to the health, safety, welfare or morals of the community and violated the guarantees of religious freedom of the Federal and State Constitutions.

In Griffin the Westchester Reform Temple seeks reversal of an order of the Appellate Division, Second Department (29 A D d 672) which by a closely divided court held that the same Zoning Ordinance of the Village of Scarsdale is not unconstitutional on its face.

The Westchester Reform Temple is a religious institution owning property at 255 Mamaroneck Road in the Village of Scarsdale. Mamaroneck Road is a heavily traveled residential street. The parcel in question consists of a large tract (6.7 acres) with a frontage of approximately 200 feet on Mamaroneck Road and a frontage of approximately 485 feet on Saxon Woods Road. It is described by the Scarsdale Planning Commission as "a long narrow parcel with an overall depth of approximately 1150 feet and a width ranging from 175 feet at the narrowest point to 325 feet at the widest point".

The land is presently improved with a single-story synagogue facility consisting of a star-shaped sanctuary in the front, three classrooms, an assembly room convertible into three additional classrooms, a kitchen, an office, a rabbi's study and a downstairs basement lounge. At its highest point the existing building rises to just over 19 feet. It is set back from the building line on Mamaroneck Road approximately 133 feet and is approximately 44 feet from its south property line and 42 feet from its north property line.

It is an undisputed fact and the Planning Commission has so found that the present facilities must be expanded to meet the increasing needs of the congregation. In Brown our review is limited by the petition and the briefs to two points. First, the Temple's plan provides for a setback of 62 feet from the building line on Mamaroneck Road while the Planning Commission insists that the setback be no less than 130 feet (5 times the height of the building as remodeled) and, second, the Temple plans to allow 29 feet to the adjoining lot on the north for a short distance while the Planning Commission insists that at least 40 feet be allowed to the adjoining side lot.

In all other respects, the Temple has been able to comply with the commission's mandate, or a mutually satisfactory agreement has been reached. It insists, however, that the setback and side-yard restrictions are arbitrary and capricious, bear no substantial relationship to the health, safety and welfare of the community, constitute an unconstitutional abridgement of freedom of religion under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution as well as section 3 of article I of New York's Constitution and impose an unnecessary $100,000 hardship on the Temple in the event that it cannot proceed in accordance with its plans.

We have already held that facilities for religious or educational uses are, by their very nature, "clearly in furtherance of the public morals and general welfare" (Matter of Diocese of Rochester v. Planning Bd., 1 N.Y.2d 508, 526; see, also, Matter of Community Synagogue v. Bates, 1 N.Y.2d 445; Incorporated Vil. of Lloyd Harbor v. Town of Huntington, 4 N.Y.2d 182, 191). And when the educational or religious needs of the community have grown, so that existing structures are inadequate, the same reasoning which we applied to the initial construction or use of the facilities must pertain to a proposed expansion or modification of the facilities. In each case the test is the same.

"Zoning ordinances must find their justification in the police power exercised in the interest of the public. (Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co., 272 U.S. 365, 387.) 'The governmental power to interfere by zoning regulations with the general rights of the land owner by restricting the character of his use, is not unlimited, and other questions aside, such restriction cannot be imposed if it does not bear a substantial relation to the public health, safety, morals, or general welfare.' (Nectow v. City of Cambridge, 277 U.S. 183, 188.)" (Matter of Concordia Collegiate Inst. v. Miller, 301 N. Y. 189, 196.) To these general statements, we have added the specific observation that "churches and schools occupy a different status from mere commercial enterprises and, when the church enters the picture, different considerations apply" (Matter of Diocese of Rochester v. Planning Bd., supra, p. 523). Thus, in the Rochester case, we held a zoning ordinance unconstitutional in its application where the purported exclusion of a church was based upon the built-up character of a residential area, the adverse effect upon property values, the loss of potential tax revenue, the decreased enjoyment of neighboring property and the potential of traffic hazards. These considerations, which might clearly control in a case involving commercial structures, were held inadequate to preclude the construction of a church. The factual pattern in the present case is much the same. Hearings were held and evidence was received by the Planning Commission. The proof was conflicting. Proponents of the contemplated structure offered to show that the Temple would harmonize with the surrounding area, that property values would not be adversely affected and that the plans submitted afforded the most feasible means of meeting the expanded needs of the congregation. Opponents of the proposed modification submitted their proofs and affidavits to the contrary. The commission made its findings. It found, among other things:

"13. that the proposed expansion toward the street line will impair the use, enjoyment and value of properties in the surrounding areas;

"14. that the proposed expansion toward the street line will have an adverse effect on the prevailing character of the neighborhood and will deteriorate the appearance of the area".

We may concede, upon the conflicting testimony, that the conclusions reached by the Planning Commission regarding the effect of the Temple's proposed expansion upon the use, enjoyment, value and character of the surrounding neighborhood find support in the record and cannot be disturbed. All of this, we have already held, is an insufficient basis upon which to preclude the construction of a church or synagogue. To sustain the Planning Commission's decision, it must be convincingly shown that the Temple's proposed expansion will have a direct and immediate adverse effect upon the health, safety or welfare of the community. This has not been done. The record is devoid of anything upon which to base a conclusion that the limitations imposed by the commission are related to the public health, safety or welfare. In such circumstances, we cannot help but conclude that the requirements are arbitrary and unrelated to the substantial health, safety or welfare of the community and, therefore, cannot be sustained. Here, as in Matter of Diocese of Rochester v. Planning Bd. (1 N.Y.2d 508, 526, supra), "under the facts presented ...


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