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Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council v. Karlen

United States Supreme Court
444 U.S. 223 (1980)


In the 1960s,  New York City, acting with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), decided to establish a plan for renewal of 20 square blocks on New York’s Upper Wes Side. Initially the plan called for a mix of middle income housing and low-income housing. After further study, local agencies in New York decided that more low-income housing was needed and amended the plan to designate the site as the future location of a high rise building containing 160 units of low-income housing. In October 1971, Trinity Episcopal School Corp., which had participated in the plan by building a combination school and middle-income housing development nearby, sued in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York to enjoin the construction of the law-income housing project. Karlen and several others (plaintiffs) intervene as plaintiffs and Strycker’s Bay Neighborhood Council (defendant) intervened as defendant. The district court found for Strycker’s Bay. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed except for the claim based on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which among other things, requires the preparation of an environmental impact statement for major federal action. While the court of appeals agreed with the district court that HUD was not required to prepare a full-scale environmental impact statement, it held that HUD had not studied, developed and described appropriate alternatives. On remand, HUD prepared a report entitled Special Environmental Clearance which found that although the choice of location for the low-income housing site has “raised valid questions about the potential social environmental impacts”, the problems “are not considered so serious as to require that this component be rated as unacceptable.” It found that any change in location would have delayed construction by another two years, which it deemed an overriding factor in staying with the present location. The district court again found for Stryker’s Bay. On appeal, the Second Circuit vacated and remanded. It found that although HUD had given consideration to alternatives, consideration was not an end in itself. It held that delay could not be an overriding factor in HUD’s decision to proceed, and instructed HUD to attack the shortage of low-income housing in a way that would avoid the concentration of housing on this site.

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