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Decision No. 14,473

Appeal of NORMAN R. GAUCH from action of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Jamestown with respect to the purchase and development of real property for a sports complex.

Decision No. 14,473

(October 12, 2000)

Phillips, Lytle, Hitchcock, Blaine and Huber LLP, attorneys for respondent, Michael C. Foley, Esq., of counsel

MILLS, Commissioner.--Petitioner challenges the actions of the Board of Education of the City School District of the City of Jamestown ("respondent") in procuring a parcel of property for the construction of a sports complex, including athletic fields and a building for concessions and the storage of equipment. The appeal must be dismissed.

The property at issue in the instant appeal is a 60 -acre parcel of farmland which abuts respondent’s middle school and is located directly across the street from petitioner’s residence. On March 3, 1998, respondent adopted a resolution accepting the district facility committee’s recommendation of a plan for a proposed capital project that included the acquisition of a site for the construction of a sports complex. On or about May 1, 1998 respondent filed a draft environmental impact statement ("DEIS") for the proposed project with the State Education Department's Office for Facilities Planning consistent with the requirements of the State Environmental Quality Review Act ("SEQRA"). On June 24, 1998, respondent adopted a resolution stating the necessity of the proposed capital project and the estimated funds necessary therefor. The resolution did not include a metes and bounds description or lot number identifying the proposed site for the project. On that same date, respondent also adopted a resolution scheduling a bond referendum to seek voter approval for the proposed capital project. The referendum was conducted on August 11, 1998 and the proposed bond resolution was approved by district voters. On September 30, 1998, title to the property at issue was conveyed to the district.

Petitioner seeks an order invalidating the transfer of title to the property claiming that respondent violated "2512(2) of the Education Law and SEQRA. Petitioner further seeks an order declaring the acquisition and proposed construction of the sports complex illegal under Article 8, ""1 and 2 of the New York State Constitution. In addition, petitioner seeks an order compelling respondent to adopt a policy on use of the district's fields and athletic facilities by outside groups.

Opponents to the proposed project commenced a proceeding under Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules ("Article 78") on October 21, 1998, entitled Davis et. al. v. Board of Education of the Jamestown City School District et. al., in Supreme Court, Chautauqua County, against respondent, the former owners of the property and the Commissioner of Education of the State of New York. With the exception of the use of school facilities policy claim, all of the relief sought by petitioner within the instant appeal was also sought in the Supreme Court action.

In response to the commencement of the Article 78 proceeding, respondent convened a special meeting on October 26, 1998 and solicited public comment on the proposed sports complex project. It further adopted a resolution stating the necessity for the acquisition of the real property for the proposed project, the amount of funds necessary for such acquisition and providing a metes and bounds description of the property to be acquired that had been omitted from the aforementioned June 24, 1998 resolution.

In a decision dated May 25, 1999, the Supreme Court, Chautauqua County, concluded that respondent violated "2512 of the Education Law by failing to pass a resolution specifically describing the property by metes and bounds or by lot number before taking title to the property. The court further ruled that the October 26, 1998 resolution did not cure the initial infirmity stating that the law’s purpose in requiring the resolution is "to allow the public to object to the proposed acquisition prior to the purchase of the property – not afterwards." As such, the court set aside the conveyance of the property at issue. The court also concluded that respondent did not violate the New York State Constitution. Citing evidence submitted by respondent that the district’s primary purpose was to serve the athletic needs of its students, the court concluded that any benefit obtained by private groups using the sports complex would be incidental and on a fee basis pursuant to district policy (Davis et. al. v. Board of Education of the Jamestown City School District et. al., No. J1-1998-2262, N.Y. Sup. Ct. Chautauqua County, May 25, 1999).

The remaining SEQRA issues were resolved pursuant to subsequent Supreme Court decisions dated November 18, 1999 (Davis et. al. v. Board of Education of the Jamestown City School District et. al., No. K1-1998-002262, N.Y. Sup. Ct. Chautauqua County, November 18, 1999; Davis et. al. v. Board of Education of the Jamestown City School District, No. K1-1999-000732, N.Y. Sup. Ct. Chautauqua County, November 18, 1999). As a result thereof, respondent was forced to start the SEQRA process anew.

The Supreme Court decision is presently on appeal before the Appellate Division, Fourth Department. Another Article 78 proceeding concerning the same parcel was commenced in Supreme Court, Chautaugua County on August 11, 2000. Petitioner is not a party to any of the judicial proceedings referenced herein involving the acquisition and proposed development of the sports complex.

First, with respect to petitioner’s request that I order respondent to adopt a policy concerning use of the district's fields and athletic fields by outside groups, respondent attached such a policy as an exhibit to its answer. Accordingly, I dismiss that portion of the appeal. With respect to petitioner's other claims for relief, the Commissioner of Education only decides matters in actual controversy and will not render a decision on a state of facts which no longer exists or which subsequent events have laid to rest (Appeal of a Student with a Disability, 39 Ed Dept Rep 39, Decision No. 14,167; Appeal of June D., 38 id. 596, Decision No. 14,101; Appeal of McConnon, 37 id. 691, Decision No. 13,959). I find that the decisions of the Supreme Court, Chautauqua County and the subsequent actions taken by respondent in response thereto render the remaining portions of petitioner’s appeal moot.

I further note that since the Supreme Court, Chautauqua County has already issued decisions on the identical issues raised in the instant appeal, some of which are pending on appeal before the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, and another Article 78 proceeding concerning the property is currently pending before the Supreme Court, Chautauqua County, it would not be in the best interests of the orderly administration of justice to have two tribunals making determinations based on the same factual situation (Appeal of Stuyvesant High School Parents Association et. al., 35 Ed Dept Rep 87, Decision No. 13,475; Appeal of Regent et. al., 27 id. 398, Decision No. 11,988; Appeal of Burrell et. al., 21 id. 649, Decision No. 10,823).

THE APPEAL IS DISMISSED.

END OF FILE