Washington Ave Armory dance party court decision: It depends on what you mean by "auditorium"...

Washington Ave Armory by upstateNYer

The Washington Ave Armory. / photo: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia

A state appellate court today reversed a decision by the Albany Board of Zoning Appeals last year that prohibited the Washington Ave Armory from holding "rave"-type dance events.

A year ago the BZA ruled such events violated the Armory's zoning. That decision hinged on the definition of the word "auditoria," the category under which the Armory is classified. The BZA ruled that an auditorium includes fixed seats, and because these dance party events didn't have fixed seats for each person in the audience, they were not allowed. The BZA's ruling was upheld by a state Supreme Court in Albany County last May. (The issue had grown out of an October 2012 foam party event at the Armory at which Albany police say crowd members had gotten combative while waiting to enter the venue.) [TU 2013] [Justia] [AOA 2012]

Like that BZA decision, this new ruling from an appellate division of state Supreme Court also focuses on the term "auditorium" and its definition -- or, rather, definitions.

From the decision (links copied from the text and added as links):

The BZA correctly noted that certain dictionaries define an "auditorium" as "the area of a concert hall, theatre, school, etc, in which the audience sits" (Harper Collins Online Dictionary [accessed Feb. 28, 2014] [British English Dictionary]) or as "the part of a public building where an audience sits" (Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary [accessed Feb. 28, 2014]). Based on these definitions, the BZA determined that petitioner's use of the Armory for a "'Rave' party, nightclub, dance club, or other similar event" was inconsistent with the permitted use of an auditorium, because such events did not provide for "actual fixed seating." However, the BZA ignored alternative definitions of an auditorium - set forth in the same dictionaries it used - as "a building for public gatherings or meetings" ([accessed Feb. 28, 2014]) or "a large room or building where people gather to watch a performance, hear a speech, etc." ([accessed Feb. 28, 2014]), which make no reference to an audience sitting. Even if petitioner's proposed uses of the Armory are inconsistent with the definitions relied on by the BZA, they are entirely consistent with the commonly used alternative definitions.

The decision also notes that the BZA's interpretation of the term auditorium "would seemingly disallow other proposed events at the Armory -such as trade shows, conventions, flea markets and other general assembly events - which have never been at issue or determined to be impermissible uses under the Code and for which the BZA previously gave its approval."

Said Michael Corts, general manager of the Washington Ave Armory, in a statement today: "We are pleased with the decision, as it confirms our understanding of our longstanding zoning approvals. The Armory remains committed to working with the City and our neighbors to address any concerns regarding its approved uses, just as we have always done." A spokesman for the venue said that it hadn't delayed of held off any major events because of the situation with the BZA decision, but this new ruling gives "event planners, organizers, and promoters additional confidence when booking with the Armory."

We're waiting to hear back from the Albany mayor's office about this ruling. When we do, we'll update.

The Armory has been hosting a range of events since the BZA ruling last year, including concerts -- it announced an everyone-gets-a-seat policy after last year's Supreme Court ruling. Among the events coming up at the Armory: Foam N Glow, "The World's Largest Foam Party," on May 2.

[via @JimmyVielkind]

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