Fire District Must Comply With Town’s Zoning Rules

A fire district in New York has received a setback in a lawsuit over a new communications tower after a Supreme Court judge ruled that despite its municipal status, a fire district must comply with municipal zoning requirements.

The Spring Fire District filed suit against the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals after the board revoked building permits for the new tower. The zoning board’s position was that fire district failed to follow public notice requirements, and that the building inspector should not have issued the permits.

The fire district took the position that as a municipality itself, it did not have to comply with local zoning restrictions imposed by another municipality. Acting Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farnetti disagreed, concluding that the district would have to go through the normal permitting process that included giving public notice to neighboring landowners.

Quoting from the decision:

  • The ZBA here … correctly determined that the building inspector mistakenly issued the permits instead of denying them.
  • There was no public hearing held before the permits were issued and since the [state mandated] review was held after the permits were issued by the very entity who would benefit by a negative declaration, the ZBA was correct to have considered that review improper.

A copy of the decision was not available. Here is more on the story.

For those interested, The Southhampton Press article explains that there is much more going on in the case. The town and the fire district have been working on plans to construct an even higher tower that would house communications equipment for both the town and the fire district. A new application for a building permit for the higher tower had been submitted. After Judge Farnetti’s ruling, the Zoning Board voted to mandate the fire district conduct a comprehensive environmental impact study as part of process for the new tower.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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