YES WE CAN ATTRACT HIGH TECH DEVELOPMENT as it appears in the Summer Edition of the Sullivan County Partnership’s “In the Know” Magazine – July 1, 2021
When most people think of the land use and zoning process in New York State, the picture that comes to mind is a stop sign, or at the very least a significant delay sign. However, there are some tools available in the New York land use and zoning laws that can be used by municipal governments to streamline the process to help attract the types of high tech development discussed in this edition.
The place to start in any municipality is to identify what areas of the municipality can best accommodate commercial growth. The next step is to review the existing comprehensive plan. Depending on when that plan was last reviewed you may only need to amend or add a supplement to the current plan to focus on that one particular area in which you want to encourage and believe you can accommodate growth.
When you consider that comprehensive plan update or supplement you are required to comply with the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). While this may seem daunting the good news is you can use this comprehensive plan supplement to serve or be accompanied by a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS). Once the process is completed, no further SEQRA compliance is required for subsequent site-specific developments (i.e. high tech projects) that are in conformance with the conditions and thresholds established in that GEIS.
Through this process a community can proactively conduct tests and studies that can, for example; determine additional traffic that can be accommodated by existing road structure and/or with certain road improvements; analyze existing and potential improvements to increase capacity of sewer and water infrastructure; identify unique environmental features, i.e. wetlands, important wildlife habitat, etc. so as to avoid disturbing and/or identify mitigation to incorporate to minimize the impact of any such disturbance; and for high tech development, analyze the broadband capacity and any necessary upgrades.
An important and under-used tool in New York State are the provisions in Town, Village and General Municipal Laws that authorize two or more municipalities to enter into inter-municipal agreements, form inter-municipal boards, and prepare a comprehensive plan and GEIS for a potential development corridor that may cross municipal borders. This allows municipalities to share the cost of preparation of the studies and even potentially any infrastructure improvements that facilitate and attract the type of growth desired.
Additional potential sources for funding this planning process and/or identified infrastructure improvements are local or county IDAs, and grants from New York State and/or Federal sources. Finally, the New York State SEQRA regulations allow a municipality to charge a portion or all of the cost of preparation of GEIS to any developer coming in who will take advantage of the new comprehensive planning and GEIS.
Upon completion of this process, any potential developer will know up front what is expected of them; what improvements will they need to make, if any; what are the parameters for such developments; what features should not be disturbed; and what mitigation measures to incorporate in the development to address important concerns of the community. By injecting some certainty into the process and being proactive it is much more likely that the municipality will attract the type of development it desires and the developer will be rewarded by the substantial reduction in the time it takes to obtain its land use approvals.
All of this takes a leap of faith by a municipality. However, by taking that leap and being proactive, Sullivan County communities can greatly increase opportunities to attract development that will provide decent jobs and a sustainable community for years to come.
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for questions regarding your specific situation.