By Jason Emerson
For the second time in five months, a lawsuit against the village of Cazenovia for its zoning law changes made to further economic development has been dismissed by a state supreme court judge.
Judge Donald F. Cerio, Jr., dismissed the 2015 lawsuit by Ledyard Avenue residents stating their claims that the 2014 rezoning of Ledyard Avenue — called the Western Gateway district — be annulled on the basis that the law was unconstitutional, illegal spot zoning and inconsistent with the village comprehensive plan, were not proven. Cerio also went further and stated that the village’s rezoning law was a “well-crafted resolution” and was a “well-thought and well-reasoned approach to land use development under extant circumstances.”
“I am pleased that Judge Cerio concurred with our position that this was a carefully crafted piece of zoning, consistent with our Comprehensive Plan and intended to serve the public interest,” said Mayor Kurt Wheeler.
Attorney Barry Schreibman, who represented plaintiffs William and Cynthia Loftus and Martin and Betty Smith in the case, said that Cerio “punted” in his decision.
“He failed to come to grips with the economic reality of what happened in this case: The village amended its zoning to accommodate The Brewster Inn’s expansion plans. This expansion would be clearly unlawful,” Schreibman said. “The court did not decide this issue, avoiding it by holding that the expansion is still ‘speculative’ because The Brewster has yet to buy the neighboring property which would make the expansion possible. So now we’ll see. If The Brewster Inn seeks to expand, the neighbors will be back in court.”
The Western Gateway rezoning law, approved in September 2014, established a new “Western Gateway” zoning district and changed the zoning of certain land parcels on both sides of Ledyard Avenue from Route 13/Lakeland Park to the western village boundary by the Trush property. The intention was to emphasize new and more potential uses for the large old homes on Ledyard Avenue as a way to prevent deterioration of those properties, to maximize land use by allowing more commercial development and to help beautify the village entranceway area overall, according to the legislation.
Nearly every resident in the Ledyard Avenue neighborhood opposed the legislation during its four-month public hearing process in 2014, stating that it was an ill-conceived and under-developed plan that would turn the spacious residential corridor into a soulless commercial strip. Many opponents also claimed that the law was proposed mainly to benefit Richard Hubbard, owner of The Brewster Inn, and his previously existing plans to purchase the houses at 8 and 10 Ledyard Ave. and turn them into wedding and overnight expansions for his business.
The law went through multiple public hearings before the village board unanimously passed it on Sept. 2.
Hubbard announced two weeks later he would not purchase the two Ledyard Avenue properties after the law was approved.
Schreibman filed suit in state supreme court in Madison County on April 20, 2015.
In his Sept. 13 decision, Cerio stated that village specifically stayed within the guidelines of its 2008 comprehensive plan when crafting the Western Gateway legislation, and that the legislation balanced the interests of the zone residents and the community as a whole, as well the village’s desire for economic development and to preserve and protect the historical integrity of the “grand homes” on Ledyard Avenue.
Cerio said the law was not spot zoning because it was not proven to have been created specifically to benefit one individual or property owner. He said that while the owner of The Brewster Inn had “demonstrated a substantial interest” in expanding his business by purchasing additional properties on the road, he has made no such purchases to date, and therefore his expansion is “speculative.”
Cerio also stated that, based on the record, the plaintiffs in the case did not prove that the village’s action in approving the law was either arbitrary or unconstitutional.
This is the second lawsuit against the village this year to be dismissed by a state supreme court judge. In April, State Supreme Court Justice Eugene D. Faughnan dismissed multiple lawsuits against the Aldi/Cazenovia Market development project, also filed by Schreibman.
Schreibman’s lawsuits — against the village of Cazenovia and developers New Venture Assets LLC and Sphere Development LLC — sought to annul the project’s site plan review approval and declare the Village Edge South mixed use rezoning on Route 20 unlawful.
“We were extremely confident that both the village board and planning board conducted rigorous, careful reviews and rendered thoughtful decisions that reflect the public interest. I am delighted that the judge concurred with our motion to dismiss these actions,” Wheeler said at the time.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.