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Can the Town Board deny a petition without a public hearing

by Russell
(Dutchess County, New York)

Visitor Question: Our town board had three landowners ask to have their land changed from 3 acre residential to commercial zoning. Can the town deny these applications as spot zoning without having a public hearing?

Editors Reply: Our opinion is that this should not occur. Of course any generalizations on our part are subject to what your local zoning ordinance actually says, but we think the legislation that enables zoning in all 50 states requires a public hearing on all zoning map changes.

The Town Board certainly might feel like just denying the application for a rezoning, which often is called a petition, if they think the application would be a pretty obvious case of spot zoning. But we do not think they have the right to do so without going through the process required by state law and also no doubt by the local zoning ordinance.

The Town Board could choose to make that public hearing move along pretty quickly, but there should not be any attempt to prevent the public from speaking out. After all, surely your Town Board would like folks to believe that the public hearing could cause a Town Board member to change his or her mind.

Yes, it might be considered a waste of everyone's time to hold a public hearing on a rezoning request that is almost sure to go down to defeat. But zoning ordinances don't have lists of minimum conditions that must be met before a rezoning petition can be filed, at least in any town of which we are aware. So everyone involved must go through the proper procedures.

By the way, this is why we always recommend that people who are seeking a rezoning should always talk informally with a town staff member, to the extent they can schedule a moment with someone. Many foolish petitions could be discouraged this way, although we have to admit, sometimes people who want to rezone don't take the hint.

For our readers who don't understand this question or our answer very clearly, we would encourage you to read another page on this site to learn about spot zoning. If you or one of our readers needs some tips on preparing to voice your opposition to a rezoning proposal, see our page on how to do this. You can find this by going to the Zoning page on our main menu and then choosing Re-Zoning Opposition.

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