The Journal News/ Region Can be Ready for Smart Planning

Pace Law Professor John Nolon argues that a new Tappan Zee Bridge offers opportunities for smart, transit-oriented development, via state support and assistance from the Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council.

An Op-ed by law professor John Nolon was published by The Journal News.

From the article:

The Journal News has done the region a great service through its recent reports and editorials on the need for detailed, comprehensive planning at the local level. This is the antidote for ill-considered and isolated land-use decisions, particularly those that harm wetlands and watersheds,  increase flooding and promote wasteful sprawl. But detailed, informed comprehensive plans are expensive, particularly if they  guide development decisions for individual parcels.

Local governments could  do such planning 40 years ago under a federal program that provided  significant funding. They were motivated to plan because they became more competitive for other federal programs. Comprehensive planning came of age and developed an excellent reputation  because of the federal funds provided. Most states do not provide comprehensive planning grants to  towns, cities and villages. Localities are “encouraged, but not required” to have comprehensive plans under state law, which adds that land-use planning and regulation “is one of the most important functions of local government.” New York has provided some help to good effect, notably in local waterfront areas, but there has  been no consistent, well-funded commitment to furthering comprehensive planning. The 2 percent tax-levy cap makes local governments unlikely to appropriate the funds to cover the  costs of needed land-use plans.

Tappan Zee key

It would be  easy for the state to provide localities the help they need, especially in the Lower Hudson Valley. There is nearly unanimous sentiment that the Tappan Zee Bridge should include transit now or in the near future. For transit — bus or commuter rail — to function efficiently, regional transportation planning and local land-use planning must connect. Bus and train station neighborhoods need to be planned carefully, then land-use regulations must be adopted to implement those plans. These are local prerogatives. The size and density of development around transit stations depend on the intensity of the ridership projected, and many of these transit station areas can be hubs for retail, office and residential development: the kind that adds  to the tax revenue of the local governments and that makes transit systems feasible. For  neighborhoods to absorb this additional density, transit station areas must be  well designed, fitted into the regional network, traffic must be  managed, parking provided and lively and livable places created. These  issues  occupy regional transportation agencies and their planners. Such fine-grained planning carries a cost, but it has been done in many neighborhoods nationwide that support transit-oriented development . A modest percentage of the capital costs of a huge project like the Tappan Zee Bridge would cover the costs of cogent, comprehensive and coordinated land-use and transportation planning.

Read the rest of the article at

The writer is counsel, Pace University School of Law Land Use Law Center; and director, Kheel Center on the Resolution of Environmental Interest Disputes.

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