Local Land Use Control in New York: An Aging Citadel Under Siege
New York State Bar Journal, p. 38, July-August 1992
4 Pages Posted: 14 Nov 2009
Date Written: July/Aug. 1992
In New York, local officials determine the shape and pace of land development, decide the economic fate of land owners and are the stewards of our natural resources. The system of local control of land use has remained relatively static since it was first created by the state legislature over seven decades ago. Today, however, it is under siege. Its strength is being sapped by preemptive state and federal regulations; it is being attacked by environmentalists and developers alike. The state's highest court has called for fundamental reform. The essential criticism of the system is that local officials cannot respond to the complex needs of rapidly developing regions or manage the escalating conflict between economic development and environmental preservation. Curiously, the critics have taken their frustrations to the courts instead of their state legislators, the gatekeepers of this now ancient citadel. While no meaningful reform proposals have been discussed in Albany, the courts have been besieged by complaints. The numerous suits brought by environmentalists to block development have been countered by an equal number of actions by landowners alleging that land use restrictions violate due process or effect a taking of property without just compensation. Litigation of this sort is a poor way to decide such important public policies. There is a better way, one that is being tested in a number of states with very similar land use systems. These legislatures have reformed the law by establishing a more coherent and integrated system. An analysis of the inadequacies of the present system and the forces that are reshaping it must precede an evaluation of how it should be changed.
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