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Turning Applications Into Approvals:  How to get your tourism project approved

With the massive influx of large-scale tourism to the Hudson Valley Region, including the Resorts World Catskills Casino in Monticello and Legoland in Goshen, an increasing number of hotels, shopping plazas, breweries, wineries, cideries, and restaurants are popping up to support these venues.

If you want a piece of the development action, you should follow the following tips to get your tourism-related project approved as quickly as possible:

  1. Do your due diligence

As with any project, choosing the right location is the most crucial element. No developer or investor wants to start the permitting process, only to learn months or even years down the line that the project’s proposed location is fraught with environmental challenges, is not commercially advantageous, or is politically disfavored. Even sites that may look good on paper can hold hidden problems when thoroughly examined for development potential, especially in a tourism-related context.

We suggest that all developers conduct, at a minimum:

  • A market research analysis: Developers need to ensure that the proposed project is commercially attractive for the area. Will there be excessive competition for tourism dollars?
  • Environmental analysis: If the project site is located on an environmentally contaminated area, it may not make economic sense to pursue a tourism-related project—at least without costly cleanup and environmental remediation measures.
  • Political due diligence: Knowing the political landscape of a potential tourism site is crucial. Developers should learn which bodies control the approval process and how those bodies are handling the tourism influx. Are they development friendly? Or are they pushing back against tourism to the area? Outside of the local governmental arena, this due diligence assessment should also include looking at the local business and social community to identify key stakeholders. Learning how to leverage support for your project—whether governmental, business, or citizen-driven—can help shape the development of your project as early as possible and even help avoid potential issues later on in the land use approval process.
  1. Hire a seasoned land use attorney familiar with the area’s challenges

Any tourism-related project is bound to require an attorney’s expertise at some point in the process. Nearly all applications will, at a minimum, need site plan review (generally under the purview of a municipal Planning Board), but others may need special permits as well or even rezoning (from a municipal Town Board) or variances (from a municipal Zoning Board of Appeals).  Land use attorneys can quickly review your proposal in conjunction with the applicable municipal code and zoning code provisions and provide a list of approvals that will be needed. In addition, land use attorneys that work in the town where your project will be sited can also provide valuable insight into the inner workings of said boards – information that attorneys from New York City or even more downstate counties might not be attuned to.

  1. Understand the opposition early

However great your project might be for the area – whether in terms of neighborhood revitalization, generating tax rateables, or job creation – there is bound to be opposition at some point in the process. The trick is to understand that opposition early and combat it before it becomes a larger problem months down the road. This is also an area where an experienced, local land use attorney can provide assistance.

One major issue that arises during the land use approval process, particularly for tourism projects, is NIMBY (“Not in My Back Yard”) opposition. Although NIMBYists come in several flavors, it is most often associated with the neighbor who objects to the siting of a project in their own neighborhood, while simultaneously raising no such objection to similar developments elsewhere. Particularly for tourism projects, NIMBYists are concerned that incoming tourists will degrade the surrounding neighborhood infrastructure, without injecting enough tourism dollars back into the municipal coffers to offset the costs of their visits. These concerns may or may not be valid, but it is important to understand that they are inevitable. Developers must understand early on how and why their project may create anger, so that they can work with their land use attorney on a plan to help assuage these concerns. A potential solution may include holding informational sessions long before any required public hearing.

  1. Move fast

In the land use realm, a stalled project is a dead project. Rest assured that other developers are also clamoring to build a similar, if the same, tourism project as you are. Although the tourism market is growing in the Hudson Valley, there is only room for a finite number of hotels, restaurants, shopping destinations, and large-scale entertainment venues. Plan your project in as much detail as possible before appearing before a local municipal board for any approvals. A municipal board is much more likely to support a fully planned project than one littered with question marks. Any lingering inquiries can deter even the most promising project’s approval process, especially at the public hearing stage when the general public can comment upon those missing details. If your project gets stalled, there may be a similar—but better planned—project that obtains its approval before yours.

By following the above steps, you can ensure that you select the best site for your proposed tourism project, as well as best prepare your project to navigate the many challenges of the land use approval process.



Marissa WeissMarissa G. Weisis an Associate with the firm and practices Environmental Law, Land Use and Municipal Law.

law.  She can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.[/column]

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