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Communities Can Use SEQRA’s Framework to Attract Economic Development

SEQRA Overview

New York’s State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) is a law that requires local, regional, and state government agencies to examine the environmental, social, and economic impacts that certain projects will have on the surrounding community. SEQRA is implicated when these projects are subject to discretionary government approval (e.g., licensing, permitting, etc.) or will receive government funding.

When SEQRA applies, there are several steps that a project applicant must complete before the lead agency (i.e., the government agency in charge of coordinating the SEQRA review process) allows a project to proceed. SEQRA can be used as a tool to promote community-based economic development when applicants design their projects to minimize adverse environmental impacts and promote local economies through benefits such as jobs, housing, and new revenue streams.

SEQRA’s Framework Promotes Economic Development

Economic development considerations are often addressed by applicants during the SEQRA review process through collaboration with localities where projects will be located, the completion of required documentation, and by responding to public comments.

Project applicants and municipalities should use SEQRA to foster economic development by building relationships with each other. Doing so in an efficient manner (e.g., proactively identifying suitable project site locations and study areas, setting standards for prospective developers to meet as to reduce SEQRA process time, etc.) will allow municipalities to attract development and ultimately save all stakeholders time and money. Project applicants can fulfill their role by invoking SEQRA as early as possible in the planning stages of a project. Open communication with involved agencies can lead to productive discussions regarding not only environmental analyses that may be required, but also economic considerations such as site selection and funding opportunities. One example of an agency applicants can discuss projects early with is the County of Sullivan Industrial Development Agency (“IDA”). The job of the IDA is to provide financial/tax incentives for companies to come to and expand within Sullivan County. The IDA, amongst other government agencies, can serve as an involved or lead agency during the SEQRA process, and fostering a relationship early on with these stakeholders that have a grasp on what local communities need will lead to a better-planned project that is more likely to survive SEQRA review.

As part of the SEQRA process, applicants may have to fill out documentation such as an environmental assessment form (“EAF”) and/or an environmental impact statement (“EIS”). By completing these documents, applicants can present key characteristics of the project, including any project alternatives explored and the short- and long-term impacts of the proposed action. These documents also allow applicants to address economic development considerations. It is important for applicants to complete these documents diligently, as they are made available to the public to examine and will serve as the basis for the agency’s ultimate SEQRA determination.

When an EIS is prepared, the lead agency has the discretion to require a public hearing. To make this determination, the lead agency will look to factors such as interest shown by the public in the project and the overall impact that a project will have on the community. When applicants work closely with community stakeholders (e.g., IDA, Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, etc.) throughout the SEQRA process, this encourages advocates of economic development to participate in public hearings to express their support for the project, which will ultimately influence the lead agency’s final decision.

SEQRA Success in Sullivan County

One example of SEQRA success from an economic development perspective in Sullivan County is the Resorts World Catskills Casino. When the New York State Constitution was amended to allow casino gambling years ago, there were worries that the casino would not survive a SEQRA court challenge given the major impacts, both from an environmental and a social perspective, a new casino can have on the community. However, community stakeholders representing areas such as rural development, tourism, unions, and workers made their case to the Town of Thompson regarding the financial gains for Sullivan County residents and its local businesses, and ultimately, all SEQRA approvals were granted. Today, the casino continues to thrive, and this was enabled because of a successfully run SEQRA review process which involved many members of the Sullivan County community.

When applicants and government agencies use SEQRA as a tool to promote productive discussions that lead to projects that mitigate adverse environmental impacts and produce financial benefits for the community, SEQRA can foster economic development and leave a lasting impact.

This article appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of the Sullivan County Partnership’s In the Know magazine.

This is not to be considered legal advice.  Please contact an attorney to discuss your specific situation.

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Alexander G. Main is of counsel with the firm and practices land use, municipal, and environmental law.  He can be reached by phone at 845-764-9656 and by email.

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