The Suffolk County legislature is currently considering a bill (I.R. 1478-2021) that would provide towns and villages with a greater opportunity to weigh in on certain zoning applications proposed in adjacent municipalities as part of the formal County review process pursuant to General Municipal Law § 239-m and Article XIV of the Suffolk County Administrative Code.  The proposed legislation is in response to public interest in large-scale development projects with cross-border implications.

The bill, sponsored by Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), notes that towns and villages are currently required to refer certain zoning actions affecting real property lying within 500 feet of the boundary of any neighboring town or village to the Suffolk County Planning Commission for review and recommendation pursuant to state and county law.  In the case of proposed zoning laws and amendments, the Planning Commission is required to provide notice to the Clerk of the adjacent municipality and that municipality may interpose an objection.  Following a public hearing, the Planning Commission may vote to disapprove the proposed zoning legislation by a two-thirds vote of its members.  The proposed County legislation seeks to extend this process to other types of zoning actions

If adopted, no zoning ordinance or local law, special permits, variances in connection with single-family residences on lots which are not over 2 acres in size, subdivisions, or site plans adopted or approved by any town or village in the County would take effect unless said zoning action has been submitted to and approved by the Planning Commission. Upon submission of the zoning action to the Planning Commission, the Commission must promptly give written notice thereof to the Clerk of any town or village adjacent to the area which is the subject of the zoning action.  The zoning action will be deemed to have been approved unless, within 45 days after the same has been filed with the Planning Commission, a municipality adjoining the boundary involved interposes an objection by resolution of its policy-making body within 20 days of the date the action has been filed with the Planning Commission and a resolution disapproving it is adopted by a two-thirds vote of the Commission’s members after a public hearing.

Under the proposed law, the Planning Commission must give at least seven days’ prior written notice of any public hearing to the Clerk of the adjoining municipality and notify all County departments, offices and agencies, including the Clerk of the Legislature, who shall forward such notice to all County legislators.  Any County department, office or agency which possesses information related to such zoning action shall immediately forward such information to the County Planning Commission.

In the event that the Planning Commission renders a resolution disapproving the application, the referring municipality may decline to adopt the Commission’s resolution and approve the action as originally applied for, but only upon an affirmative vote of a majority plus one of the entire membership of the referring body that explicitly sets forth its reasons for not approving the Planning Commission’s resolution.

Proponents of the local law are likely to view the input from adjacent municipalities on significant land use matters as a step toward regional planning, which has proven to be successful in many states, but is virtually non-existent in New York.  Opponents of the law will perceive it as an affront to the concepts of home rule and self-governance that are deeply entrenched in our State constitution.

The proposed legislation presents a classic “what goes around comes around” situation for towns and villages in Suffolk County. On one hand, it would give municipalities an opportunity to voice their concerns and provide input on land use matters in adjacent municipalities. On the other hand, however, their own land use decisions would now be susceptible to criticism and opposition from neighboring communities.

The proposed local law is presently pending before the County legislature’s Economic Development, Planning & Housing Committee and, if approved by the Committee, will be subject to a public hearing before the full legislature.  Thereafter, if a majority of the legislators vote to enact the proposed law, it will be presented to the County Executive for his signature.