What local options are available for my community to encourage growth that will meet the changing needs of the people who live there and, at the same time, preserve and protect critical natural resource areas? In New York, the State’s Town Law and Village Law give municipalities the power to create incentive zoning that will grant developers certain development incentives in exchange for providing agreed upon community benefits. Through community-based planning efforts, community members and local government officials can engage in a visioning process to reach consensus upon the desired community benefits and the incentives they are willing to extend to a developer as part of a proposed project. The government effort to gain community buy-in for form-based zoning, through a dialogue with the community members, will force the discretionary decision making to occur during the planning process rather than at the approval stage when the will of elected officials is too often sternly tested by the visceral reactions of community objectors.
Section 261-b of the Town Law and Section 7-703 of the Village Law identify certain community benefits that are worthy of consideration in exchange for development incentives. As set forth in the enabling statutes, developers may offer to:
- Preserve open space;
- Provide housing for persons of low or moderate income;
- Include park land within a proposed project;
- Provide day care or elder care to the community; or
- Other specifically identified physical, social or cultural amenities identified by the municipality; or
If such amenities cannot be immediately identified by the municipality at the time the incentives are granted, the local zoning authority may accept cash in lieu of the construction of an amenity as long as it determines there is a desired benefit to the residents of the community.
The process will produce an adopted plan that establishes agreed upon standards and guidelines that will allow proposed development to proceed as-of-right. The plan can also become part of the local zoning code through the inclusion of a Planned Development District (PDD) or an Overlay District that has stated requirements for development that might allow greater height or density in exchange for meeting certain conditions. A developer may offer to create a sewer district or expand or improve a sewage treatment plant or other measures to protect the environment. Through the community-based planning process, residents get what they want and developers know what to expect in order to reach desired results.