In order to make New York State more "business-friendly," we advocated for a 2 % cap on property taxes. A good first step. But we're also taking a hard look at SEQRA, the State Environmental Quality Review Act, passed in 1975, that is stifling business and job creation here...
|WCA's Blueprint for Westchester Committee tackling SEQRA reform.|
In New York State, planning boards and other public agencies must comply with strict procedures mandated by SEQRA, to review and assess the potential environmental impact on any proposed project subject to public approval or funding. The object was to prevent or eliminate damage to the environment "and enhance community resources." The law's primary tool is the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a document that must be carefully prepared to explore ways to minimize environmental damage and identify less-damaging alternatives.
Why is there a problem?
"The effect of the Act has been to add innumerable delays to projects, let alone cost," says Marissa Brett, WCA's director of Economic Development. "While preserving the environment is a worthy goal -- and we applaud local officials and developers who are sensitive to environmental concerns -- it doesn't mean we can't turn a critical eye on the Act and reform it."
According to Brett, there's much that could be done to speed the approval process and not leave developers dangling for years and years before a decision is made:
a. mediate disputes rather than let them drag on;
b. establish better timeframes and planning of the approval process;
c. adjust the SEQRA fee structure to encourage, not discourage, prompt reviews;
d. exempt some local zoning from the SEQRA process;
e. do a better job of educating the decision-makers and the public about SEQRA.
"The SEQRA law and regulations need to remain flexible," says Brett. "Rather than allow projects to drag on, a finite timeframe should be in place to complete environmental review. This would attract new business and investment, and provide developers with some assurance that some of their costs could be contained."
SEQRA was originally passed to protect the environment. Some charge that local residents take advantage of the Act to delay projects indefinitely. Others claim that the Act preserves our natural heritage, which, in turn, makes property even more valuable. Is reforming SEQRA about pitting the environment against jobs and development?
"Definitely not!" says Brett. "It's more about balance. We need to create a much better environment in which to attract and retain business. If we do that, jobs and prosperity will follow."