Zoning Board barely avoided a costly lawsuit

Thank goodness that cooler heads prevailed during a recent Zoning Board of Appeals decision.
A few weeks ago, a bare majority of ZBA members voted to reject a variance request for a commercial building on Caniff Ave.
Due to the city’s records, the building is listed as being in a residential section of the city, even though the building is clearly built for commercial purposes.
The owner of the property was seeking a variance to allow a business to operate there.
That should have been easy decision, but instead it led to a passionate debate.
The reason?
The owner plans to operate a recreational marijuana retail outlet there. Recreational marijuana is legal in the state, and there is a growing movement to legalize – or decriminalize – it on a federal level.
Some ZBA members had the erroneous belief that, since they are opposed to marijuana, they could reject the variance.
They were warned by city attorneys that they couldn’t discriminate against a legal business, and that rejecting the request would lead to a costly lawsuit.
And sure enough, the owner of the property wasted no time in filing a lawsuit seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars after the initial rejection.
Fortunately, the ZBA met again and reversed its decision. The lawsuit will likely be withdrawn.
But the issue raises a concern about whether residents serving on city commissions should be allowed to make such decisions. Clearly, this was an instance where their prejudices got in the way of good judgment.
At the very least, the city council, which appoints ZBA members, ought to look at this matter, and consider removing ZBA members who would expose the city to expensive lawsuits.
Posted Dec. 11, 2020

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