A New York State Supreme Court Justice in Nassau County dismissed two separate challenges to the state government approvals of a new arena for the NHL’s New York Islanders hockey team. The challenges to the Belmont Redevelopment Project were brought by a neighboring village and a group of citizens seeking to stop the ongoing construction of the arena alleging, among other grounds, that the project approvals violated the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and the public trust doctrine.
The trial court affirmed the government’s SEQRA review applying the well-established and highly deferential “rational basis” standard of review applicable to administrative challenges. The petitioners challenged the detailed traffic analysis contained in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Belmont project, but the court held that “the traffic studies did, in fact, take into account the factors [the government] is accused of disregarding, but reached different conclusions with respect to the extent of the impact or the efficacy of the mitigation.” The petitioners also sought to challenge the inclusion of additional mitigation measures between issuance of the draft and final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), such as the construction of a new Long Island Railroad commuter train station, on the grounds that a supplemental EIS was required. The petitioners also claimed the inclusion of more detail on proposed transportation management measures and an alternative approach to servicing the project with natural gas required supplemental review. The court rejected those arguments, observing that the additional measures were intended to reduce project impacts and had been adequately studied in the FEIS. The court also cited with approval the approach of providing an additional comment period on the FEIS when new measures are added, even though SEQRA does not explicitly provide for such a procedure. This ruling supports that courts tend to look positively on environmental reviews that provide ample opportunities for public review and comment and will not require supplements when additional mitigation measures or project changes implemented between issuance of a draft EIS and FEIS do not result in significant new environmental impacts. The court also rejected petitioners’ public trust doctrine claims, noting that Belmont Park Racetrack had been privately owned and operated since 1905 and had only recently become state-owned, with private development explicitly contemplated by state statute.
Greenberg Traurig represented the governmental defendant, New York State Economic Development, in connection with the environmental review and subsequent legal challenges to the Belmont Redevelopment Project which, along with the arena, also contemplates a retail village and other amenities.