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Fisher v. Giuliani

    Brief Fact Summary.

    This is an appeal involving a challenge to zoning amendments affecting the Manhattan Theater District.  The petitioners allege that the City was required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement prior to implementing changes to the New York City Zoning Resolution. 

     

     

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The standard of review for overturning administrative rulings is a finding that the actions were “arbitrary and capricious.”  Even if there was a substantial objection in the community regarding the plan or some disagreement as to its likely environmental impact, the court will not overturn a negative declaration unless the board acted irrationally or abused its discretion.

     

     

    Facts. This is an appeal involving a challenge to zoning amendments affecting the Manhattan Theater District.  The petitioners allege that the City was required to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement prior to implementing changes to the New York City Zoning Resolution (ZR). In 1983 New York City amended the ZR in response to the destruction of several theaters creating a new “Theater Subdistrict” that restricted the demolition of designated theaters and attempted to make them more viable by permitting the transfer of development rights to nearby parcels.  The 1998 amendments authorized the transfer of development rights from designated theaters to receiving sites anywhere within the Theater Subdistrict and included an as-of-right transfer mechanisms and zoning incentives.  The DCP examined several environmental factors such as the density of particular sites and the impact on traffic, air quality and transit.

    Issue.  Whether a substantial objection in the community regarding a plan impacts the standard of review for overturning administrative rulings, and warrants a finding that the actions were “arbitrary and capricious.”

    Held. The court in Fisher upheld the negative declaration but remanded to the City Planning Commission to determine the environmental impact of the discretionary permits which were not considered in the plan.  DCP failed to analyze the potential environmental impact that could arise from discretionary grants of FAR, so those portions of the Zoning Resolution were severed and annulled, the remaining aspects of the Zoning Resolution were upheld.

    Discussion. The Manhattan Theater District generates approximately $2 billion in economic activity annual and employs 250,000 people.  The Petitioners claimed that the DCP underestimated future demand in the Theater Subdistrict based on the belief that historical development trends in the Theater Subdistrict were no longer meaningful.  However, the DCP projections examined the larger midtown area, not just the Theater Subdistrict.  The court admitted that certain soft sites might enjoy greater profitability because taller buildings would be permitted and due to larger geographical areas to sell their development rights to, but those observations do not undermine the rationality of DCP’s determination that market demand will remain relatively constant.


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