Assemblywoman Sandy Galef Announces Passage of Municipal Training Legislation

Minimum training standard would be established for planning and zoning board members
July 5, 2006

The New York State Legislature has approved legislation (A.9259/S.6316) sponsored by Assemblywoman Sandy Galef and Senator George H. Winner, Jr. to establish minimum training requirements for municipal planning and zoning officials.

“Our Westchester and Putnam county communities, particularly those on the Hudson River, are under intense development pressures,” said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. “Our municipal planning and zoning board officials are the ones who have to make critically important decisions under these difficult circumstances. They should possess the knowledge to make the best decisions and this legislation will help them do so.”

"The challenges facing local planning and zoning officials have enormous implications for rural communities and localities across New York State," said Winner, chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources. “Local officials are given the primary responsibility for regulating local land use in New York State. Training in modern land use tools and strategies can help these officials better address land use decisions that have become increasingly complex and decisive to the future quality of our communities. So many of these decisions impact the traditional foundations of rural communities, especially agriculture, natural resources and open space. We need to try to ensure that local land use decisions are made with as much effectiveness, foresight and training as possible.¨

Assemblywoman Galef said that no uniform statutory standards currently exist for training municipal planning and zoning officials in New York. Their legislation (S.6316/A.9259) proposes a minimum training standard of four hours annually for members of local planning boards, zoning boards of appeal and county planning boards. Municipalities are provided with the flexibility to structure the training requirement in a variety of ways. Training may be obtained through a range of sources, according to Galef.

A wide variety of land use training is available throughout the state at no cost to participants, so that the four-hour minimum requirement can be obtained with minimal fiscal impact. For example, the Department of State hosts training courses throughout the year at various locations statewide. The state Association of Towns, Conference of Mayors and Planning Federation offer training. Free training and distance learning is available on line.

Galef and Winner cited a growing consensus among planning federations, local governments, builders institutes, insurance companies, economic development corporations, land preservation trusts, environmental groups and others that well trained municipal planning and zoning board members are essential to maintaining and enhancing quality communities.

"Westchester County, through its Planning Department and the Westchester Municipal Planning Federation, has been in the forefront of delivering training programs for local officials in the planning and zoning process for decades," said Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano. "This new legislation underscores the Federation's long efforts to promote the adoption of local training requirements. Continuing education is critically important for the successful application of the many innovative and sophisticated planning tools used in Westchester's municipalities."

“Congratulations and thanks to Assemblywoman Sandy Galef for having the foresight to sponsor this bill and move it to passage,” said Paul Gallay, Executive Director of the Westchester Land Trust. “There's a strong correlation between the level of training that a planning board receives and the quality of their decisions, and so this bill will really help advance the principles of smart growth and environmental sustainability.”

"We applaud the passage of this important legislation. As the amount of undeveloped land continues to diminish throughout our region, well-informed decisions about land use, which properly balance growth with needed protection of our natural resources and communities' character, are essential. Thus, our municipal decision-makers need to be better prepared for the challenges ahead, and this training will serve to improve their decision-making under challenging circumstances,” said Andrew Chmar, Executive Director of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust.

"With this bill, New York joins a growing number of states that recognize the tremendous importance of local land use actions and of ensuring that local decision-makers receive regular training. This is good news for the state and its people who are deeply interested in proper growth and development, affordable housing, urban revitalization, natural resource protection, job development, and the relief of traffic congestion, among other critical land use issues,” said John R. Nolon, Counsel, Land Use Law Center, Pace University School of Law.

“It’s widely believed that well considered and timely land use decisions by a municipal board or commission helps attract promoters of quality community development, including those considering residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial, open space, recreational and main street projects. Sound land use decisions result in fewer lawsuits and can help lower municipal liability insurance costs,” concluded Galef.