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Thread: Planning boards with no jurisdiction?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Planning boards with no jurisdiction?

    The county in which I work as a municipal planner consists entirely of incorporated municipalities. Almost all of the infrastructure is maintained by local governments, except for the county sewer district which is really just a funding mechanism for sewage plants. The county performs a patchwork of functions ranging from administering the criminal justice/prison system, conducting health inspections, running nursing homes, and maintaining the county road system which is pretty limited.

    Since everywhere is incorporated, the county has no land use jurisdiction whatsoever. Nevertheless, the county has a Planning Board supported by a professional planning staff. Its only function (as far as I can tell) is to review
    development projects in municipalities that lie within 500 feet of county and state facilities, subject to this arcane NY state law called GML 239. None of the recommendations of the county Planning Board are binding, but we never receive any objections let alone useful recommendations anyway. I don't know if the county planners provide any assistance to municipalities, but most of the towns/cities are urban/suburban in nature and have their own professional staff, except for the rural villages which may or may not want any help. I'm hesitant to call the county planning department a useless layer of government, but only because I have no idea what the county planners do all day; for all I know they could be doing a great job at, well, whatever it is that they do.

    Do you know of any other places that have Planning Boards without any actual planning jurisdiction? If so, what is their purpose?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    Do they end up acting like Regional Planning Agencies or are there other organizations that fill that role? Do they have websites that explain their mission?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    County planning boards in New York State actually have authority to do much more than just review projects of potential regional significance.

    From NYS General Municipal Law 239-c(3):
    3. County planning board powers and duties.
    (a) Review of certain municipal planning and zoning actions. The county legislative body may, by resolution, authorize the county planning board to conduct reviews of certain classes of planning and zoning actions by a city, town or village within such county pursuant to sections two hundred thirty-nine-l and two hundred thirty-nine-m of this article, and to review certain subdivision plats pursuant to section two hundred thirty-nine-n of this article.
    b) County comprehensive plan. The county legislative body may request the county planning board to assist in the preparation of a county comprehensive plan and amendments thereto pursuant to section two hundred thirty-nine-d of this article.
    (c) County official map. The county legislative body may request the county planning board to prepare a county official map and amendments thereto pursuant to section two hundred thirty-nine-e of this article.
    (d) County studies. The county planning board may undertake studies relevant to the future growth, development, and protection of the county and municipalities therein, including studies in support of a county comprehensive plan.
    (e) Local studies. The county planning board may assist a city, town, or village in the study of ways to obtain economy, efficiency and quality in the planning and provision of municipal services.
    (f) Collection and distribution of information. The county planning board may collect and distribute information relative to county or municipal planning and zoning in such county. Upon request from the county or a municipality the planning board may recommend to the legislative body of the county or such municipalities whose jurisdictions are served by the county planning board a comprehensive plan which shall designate suitable areas to be zoned for land uses, taking into consideration, but not limited to, such factors as existing and projected highways, parks, open spaces, parkways, public works, public utilities, public transportation terminals and facilities,
    population trends, topography and geologic structure.
    (g) Local technical assistance. The county planning board may furnish such technical services as a municipality within the county may request. Such services may include, but not be limited to assistance with planning and land use functions, use of geographic information systems, infrastructure development, as well as inter-municipal services delivery, and may be provided directly by the county planning board or in coordination with other county departments or agencies. The charges, if any, to be made for such services shall be established by the county legislative body.
    (h) Highway construction. Before the final approval of any plan involving the construction or reconstruction of any state or county highway, with or without federal aid, the county planning board shall be given an opportunity to examine such plans and offer suggestions with respect thereto. This paragraph shall in no manner be construed as nullifying or contravening the final approval of the commissioner of transportation.
    The main problem is that most of these authorities are permissive, and the Board must be directed to undertake them by the county's legislative body.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    ^^ Again, when everywhere is incorporated the county will not be doing any land use planning. So yeah they may have the powers but in reality they can't/won't be using them.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    I did a gig with a county sans zoning. It was great. We developed many planning elements as the basis for infrastructure improvements and to increase our chances for grants--even if a town got the grant. I would spend an afternoon talking with them: What can I do to help you? What can you do to help me?

  6. #6
    Cyburbian RandomPlanner's avatar
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    NYS County Planning

    As a NYS County Planner, I can see how, in a County full of incorporated municipalities, County government may not seem as necessary. Basically, we are an advisory power (yes, not unlike a regional planning board).

    As far as GMLs, I don't think it's an arcane law. Our department (yes, me directly) should be commenting on potential County impact for planning projects that fall within 500' of x, y, and z (among them, state and county highways, NYS certified agricultural districts, municipal boundaries). But beyond that, I personally try to point out any pertinent local impacts. Not because I don't think smaller municipal boards are capable (though, in my county, few are paid professional planners); but because I think it's my job (as a County planner) to help educate my Boards.
    Yes, my recommendation (if recommending disapproval of a project) can be overruled by the local Boards (by a supermajority vote), but at least I've given you something to consider (as I should in my advisory role).

    Also, there is so much more happening at the County Planning level than just General Municipal Law reviews!:
    -- We assist in a multitude of projects ranging from water quality to ag preservation to first time home buyer grants to economic development (yes, the Ec Dev guy works directly out of our office).
    -- We run the County Parks and Recreation department.
    -- We sponsor (and teach) the required training sessions for planning and zoning officials.
    -- We are directly involved in the planning process for municipalities that accept our assistance (I've personally been on several Comprehensive Planning Committees for individual municipalities).
    -- We make maps constantly, saving our municipalities time and money so they don't have to pay a consultant.
    -- We work on the Indian Land Claim issues.
    -- We have a Grants Coordinator who actively finds and applies for grants for County, Town, and Village projects.
    -- We run a County-wide transportation system.
    -- We coordinate and facilitate snowmobile clubs, trails and (grant) monies.
    -- We work on Historic Preservation issues with local Boards, looking now at being a National Trust for Historic Preservation's Main Street Coordinating Program.
    -- We're working now on a Renewable Energy Park.
    -- We work on Floodplain and Wetland projects/ issues.

    ummm, that might be it, but I feel like I'm missing some things. Do I sound too gung-ho about County Planning??!
    How do I know you are who you think you are?

  7. #7
    Cyburbian fringe's avatar
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    Our state mandates local governing bodies to file comprehensive plans on a periodic basis, thereby creating local planning boards, none that I know of having enforcement power, just advisory. Enforcement (not very toothy) rests with whatever is there in zoning regs.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    I still think it's a bit curious to have a Planning Board with no jurisdictional authority. I can see County planning having a value in rural areas, but in regions where you already have a number of planning agencies including regional planning, MPOs, and transit agencies it just seems like overkill.

    I wish there was more direct support to local government planning from the state. These regional agencies have these huge budgets but they don't really do anything of substance; they don't deal in the real world like local planning departments which implement plans, interact with the development community, and actually shape outcomes. Too much support for b.s. regional planning but not enough for local government where it is actually needed IMO.

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