In assessing whether a municipal official has an interest in some matter requiring his or her recusal, we must look to whether the interest in question can be reasonably viewed as “substantial” and “direct.” In the context of zoning legislation, courts have held that the ownership of real property in an area that will be financially affected by a board’s decision does not require disqualification if other property owners will be similarly affected. See Town of North Hempstead v. Village of North Hills, 38 N.Y.2d 334, 379 N.Y.S.2d 792 (1975); Segalla v. Planning Bd. of Town of Amenia, 204 A.D.2d 332, 611 N.Y.S.2d 287 (2d Dep’t 1994). Such interests are deemed too remote to constitute a disqualifying conflict of interest.
Courts also recognize that public policy should not discourage municipal officials from being property owners. See Clear Skies over Orangeville v. Town Bd. of Town of Orangeville, 2010 WL 7357949, at *18 (Sup. Ct. Wyoming Cty. 2010).
The opinion issued by the New York State Attorney General’s Office to Jerome J. Levenberg, Esq., the Village Attorney for the Village of Cedarhurst, 2002 N.Y. Op. Att’y Gen. 1028 (Mar. 4, 2002), further illustrates this point. In that matter, the AG opined that a trustee who owned commercial property in the Village’s Business Improvement District (“BID”) was required to recuse himself from voting on the BID budget only if he had a “substantial, personal interest in the outcome of the BID budget vote.” Such interest would exist if the trustee “owned a considerable portion of the commercial property within the BID” or a proposed improvement was to be closely situated to, or have a direct nexus with, the trustee’s property, such that the trustee’s interests were more likely to be affected than those of other BID property owners. However, the mere fact that a trustee owned property in the BID, by itself, did not set forth facts demonstrating recusal was required.
The same is true here. One Town Board member owns a residential property that lies within the 72-acre study area that was initially identified by the Town Board for possible rezoning. Based upon the authorities cited above, there is no basis to conclude that this Town Board member has a disqualifying interest with respect to consideration of form-based zoning legislation for the Chappaqua business hamlet.
This issue was originally addressed by the Town Board on October 26, 2020, at which time Town Counsel provided this same guidance to the Board. Any ongoing attempts to claim that a Town Board member has a conflict of interest are baseless.