A Bit of Local History

0:00 Celebrating 100 Years of Rye’s Zoning Rules In 1923, the Village of Rye adopted a zoning ordinance, which has evolved over time into Rye […]

Highland Hall
Published May 12, 2023 12:24 AM
3 min read


Celebrating 100 Years of Rye’s Zoning Rules

In 1923, the Village of Rye adopted a zoning ordinance, which has evolved over time into Rye City’s current zoning regulations. In this centennial year, we should celebrate the many benefits zoning has provided this community and the countless volunteers who have administered the sometimes difficult process.

The adoption of zoning in America arose at the turn of the twentieth century as cities felt a growing need to stabilize property values and protect residents from issues such as crowded living conditions, outbreaks of disease, and industrial pollution. New York City adopted the first zoning ordinance in 1916, which, like other early ordinances in the country, was narrow in scope but steadily became more comprehensive. 

At the outset, zoning laws were often criticized as an overreach of government power and an unlawful restriction of private rights. It was not until 1926 that the constitutionality of zoning laws was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Euclid v. Ambler Realty

Despite that decision, rulings of local zoning authorities in Rye and elsewhere have frequently been challenged. In the 2018 case of Hargraves v. City of Rye Zoning Bd. of Appeals, a New York appellate court held that: “Local zoning boards have broad discretion in considering applications for area variances, and judicial review is limited to determining whether the action taken by the board was illegal, arbitrary, or an abuse of discretion… In determining whether to grant an application for an area variance, a zoning board must engage in a balancing test weighing “the benefit to the applicant if the variance is granted … against the detriment to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood by such grant.”

An important zoning decision was made soon after the Rye ordinance was passed in 1923. As reported in The Rye Chronicle, the Village Board of Trustees voted to change the zoning law to permit a “modern apartment house” to be built on property owned by the Episcopal Church, which was located between it and the Methodist Church. The Trustees declared that “such a building would be of immense benefit to the community.” That decision made way for Blind Brook Lodge.

While it was being constructed, advertisements for Blind Brook Lodge described it as having “exterior of brick and concrete, and heavy timber trim of English Manor design… The structure will contain approximately…121 apartments; 12 guest rooms on the first floor, a 5- room Doctor’s suite; 22 maids’ rooms; a tearoom and 2 shops in the basement, and a garage of 13,500 square feet to accommodate about 75 motor cars.”

Highland Hall, Rye’s first apartment building, was built on the site of the Rye Boarding Stables in 1925 and Manursing Lodge followed. However, when another apartment development was proposed in 1938 to be built on Forest Avenue near Playland, it was not approved because of neighborhood opposition. No other apartment buildings were approved until after World War II. 

In 1964, an article in The Chronicle stated that the City’s zoning policy was to “ensure that future apartment development be of a type carefully related to the one-family home character of the City and limited in amount so as to maintain that predominant character.” That strong preference for single-family residences has a long history in this country. In 1931, President Herbert Hoover stated: “To possess one’s own home is the hope and ambition of almost every individual in our country, whether he lives in a hotel, an apartment, or a tenement. It makes for happier married life and better children. Thus, it makes for better citizenship.”

The second part of this column will look at the current developments in suburban zoning that may challenge the status quo.

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