New York Legislature Directs Public Authorities to Rein in Urban Sprawl and Promote Smart Growth

Client Advisory

September 10, 2010

In June, the State Legislature passed the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Policy Act.1 On August 3 0th, the Governor signed the bill explicitly incorporating the concept of “smart growth” into New York law for the first time.2 Smart growth refers to urban planning that focuses new development towards existing urban areas and public transportation and away from open space, farmland and rural areas. 

Agencies covered by the law must, to the “extent practicable,” avoid approving, funding or otherwise supporting public infrastructure projects that are inconsistent with the law’s anti-sprawl goals. These goals include (a) using existing infrastructure; (b) directing growth towards existing municipal centers; (c) promoting infill development in locations that municipalities themselves have already identified for growth; (d) preserving open space and other natural resources; and (e) fostering downtown revitalization. 

Each agency action must be accompanied by a smart growth impact statement explaining how the project meets the law’s requirements or, if not, why complying with them is not practicable. Each covered agency must also create a smart growth advisory committee.

The law enjoyed wide support from legislators around the state. Suburban communities are eager to head off further sprawl, which stresses municipal services and increases traffic congestion, and cities, particularly upstate, are eager to capture growth in their existing, often depressed, downtowns.   

The key to efficient compliance with the law will be incorporating compliance into the existing environmental impact review process. Under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”), all state agencies, counties and municipalities must already assess the impacts of their actions prior to taking any affirmative steps towards approving, funding or otherwise undertaking them. The “smart growth statement” and analysis required by the law should be a natural fit with the existing SEQRA process and documentation.

The most uncertain part of the law appears to bewhich state agencies are covered. Unlike SEQRA, which applies to all state and local agencies, this bill does not appear to target local governments. Instead, covered agencies under the billinclude any “state infrastructure agency,” which is defined to include the “Department of Transportation, Department of Education, Department of Health, Department of State, Environmental Facilities Corporation, Housing Finance Agency, Housing Trust Fund Corporation, Dormitory Authority, Thruway Authority, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Empire State Development Corporation,” and all other “authorities” and their subsidiaries. But the term “authorities” is somewhat vague in New York State, which has hundreds of agencies, departments, public authorities and public benefit corporations. 

Questions regarding this advisory should be addressed to author Christopher Rizzo (212-238-8677, You may also contact environmental practice group members Christine A. Fazio (212-238-8754, or Ethan I. Strell (212-238-8632,


1 The Assembly bill A 8011-B and the Senate bill is S 05560-B.

2 Under other provisions of state law, the State Energy Planning Board and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority must also consider smart growth in certain planning. This law goes much further.

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