WEBSTER, N.Y. (WROC) — A win for residents in Webster who have long opposed the construction of a year-round lettuce farm, as the project has been delayed by a recent court ruling.
CEA Fresh Farms sought to construct a greenhouse facility to grow leafy greens at a 140-acre site on State Road in Webster, but due to a zoning issue, the project will not move forward at this time.
In November at a public forum CEA Fresh Farms CEO Kevan Fight said he wanted to take the land and build a facility for indoor agriculture, food produced under lights, year-round.
According to Fight, the project could generate 375 local jobs over five years, and about 400 indirect jobs for the county.
However residents were not in agreement and said the development would cause heavy traffic, noise and light pollution.
The citizens eventually took it to court, and now those citizens are claiming victory.
According to the court ruling: full document is below: “Because the appeal challenging the determination that the Project was a permitted use under the Town Code was never presented to or heard by the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals), it must be remanded to the ZBA for consideration.“
The petition/complaint alleges six causes of action:
- The first cause of action asserts the Project does not comply with the Town of Webster Zoning Code §§ 225-12, 225-73[F], 225- 73[D] and 225-11[B], and therefore, the actions of the Town were arbitrary, capricious and illegal.
- The second and alternative cause of action asks for a writ of mandamus to require the ZBA to hear the ZBA appeal.
- The third cause of action asserts the Project does not comply with SEQRA because it should be a Type I Action (6 NYCRR § 617.4[b][i]), not a Type II Action (6 NYCRR § 617.5[c]), and therefore, the actions of the Town were arbitrary, capricious and illegal.
- The fourth cause of action asserts the Project does not comply with the NYS Open Meetings Law (Public Officer’s Law §103[e]) and therefore, the actions of the Town were arbitrary, capricious and illegal.
- The fifth cause of action asserts the Project does not meet the standards for site plan approval contained in Zoning Code § 228-6, and therefore, the actions of the Town were arbitrary, capricious and illegal.
- The sixth cause of action generally asserts the Approvals may otherwise be in violation of other laws, regulations and procedures and/or arbitrary and capricious.
Tim Young representing the Webster Citizens for Appropriate Land Use, issued the following statement Tuesday:
“On Monday, May 18, 2020, Judge Gail Donofrio issued her decision in the case of Webster Citizens for Appropriate Land Use (WeCALU) vs. Town of Webster, et al, in favor of WeCALU. The citizens group filed the Article 78 petition in New York State Supreme Court on December 19, 2019, two weeks after the Webster Planning Board gave final approval to CEA Fresh Farms to build a massive lettuce factory on 141 acres of farmland on State Road in the Town of Webster. Judge Donofrio agreed with WeCALU that the town Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) should have heard their appeal, filed November 14, 2019, of the Town’s conclusion that ‘the proposed facility is a permitted use in the LL Zoning District pursuant to Town Code 225-12(A)(6)’, stating that, ‘the rejection of the appeal by the Deputy Town Attorney without presenting it to the ZBA was improper.’ In summary, Judge Donofrio states that, ‘Because the appeal challenging the determination that the Project was a permitted use under the Town Code was never presented to or heard by the ZBA, it must be remanded to the ZBA for consideration. The ZBA is directed to address petitioner’s appeal and this matter is remanded to the ZBA for that purpose. Moreover, since all of the Planning Board approvals were made after petitioner filed its appeal, the approvals must be annulled.’ Young, adds, ‘In essence, everything that transpired with the Town of Webster regarding this project since WeCALU’s appeal on November 14, 2019 is disregarded and the matter must be taken up by the Webster ZBA. WeCALU fully intends to continue to pursue this matter with the ZBA, and beyond, if necessary. It has been the group’s mission, from day one, to assure that this project, and others like it, are planned and constructed in accordance with the laws and Comprehensive Master Plan of the Town of Webster’”.Tim Young, WeCALU
John DeMarco with the Town of Webster sent in this statement Tuesday on behalf of the Zoning Board:
“Setting aside the final decision, respectfully, the Town is troubled in the first instance by the reasoning upon which Justice Donofrio based her decision. The decision leaves the potential for adverse consequences for not only Webster but all municipalities in NY in terms of the manner of administrative zoning review and compliance is reached going forward. Having said that the Town and it’s Boards will continue to strive in striking the appropriate balance between a Landowner/Developer’s rights with respect to approved uses of land with the best interests of the surrounding neighborhoods on any given project. We will evaluate the Judge’s decision as well as the Town’s options over the next coming weeks to determine whether to appeal the decision. Our determination in this regard must include considerations not only of the Applicants and the neighbors in opposition but also the longer term impact on administrative review.-John L DeMarco, Esq. Counsel to Webster ZBA
Check back with News 8 WROC as we will continue to update this developing story.