Commercial Zoning

Local Government Planning Board Approves Disputed Development Because "Applicant Is Within His Legal Rights"

The history of Patrick Farms in the Town of Ramapo, New York, is just too long and sordid to tell. In fact, there are forces at play–religious, political, environmental–that would make an Oliver Stone movie look Spielbergian in nature. Nevertheless, a good primer on the history can be found here, at the “Preserve Ramapo” web site. Yes, this is slanted in its view. But, unfortunately, there is no “Do Not Preserve Ramapo” web site to counterbalance.

In any event, of immediate interest to us at the North Carolina Land Use Litigator is not only the evolving outcome of this goat rodeo, but the comments of local government officials accompanying the outcome.

This week, the Town of Ramapo Planning Board approved the construction of nearly 500 housing units on the rural Patrick Farm site outside the Village of Pomona. Again, without getting into the specifics of the opposition, suffice it to say that there is much opposition. However, the heart of the matter can be found in this quote from the Chairman of the Town of Ramapo Planning Board: “As long as the applicant is within his legal rights and all of the agencies are on board with it, what legal right do we have to turn [the application] down?”

Does this sound like political cover? Sure. And perhaps it is, to an extent. But this is also a legal truism that all developing entities and local governments should heed. In the face of an administrative land use decision, in which the local government is not vested with discretion, the applicant’s compliance with the objective criteria will almost certainly entitle the applicant to approval.

Mike Thelen is a lawyer in Womble, Carlyle’s Real Estate Litigation practice group. He regularly represents a wide variety of clients, from local governments to businesses, in land use and land development issues in both state and federal venues throughout North Carolina.

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