New York Model Local Laws to Increase Resilience

In June 2019, the New York Department of State completed a set of model local resiliency laws as part of its required actions under the State’s Community Risk and Resiliency Act (CCRA). The model laws are meant to inform municipalities who want to adapt their own resiliency measures. Five categories of model laws are included in the model, which is divided into five corresponding chapters. The categories are 1) basic land use models including zoning practices; 2) model legal protections for watercourses and wetlands; 3) model protection measures for shorelines; 4) model floodplain management practices, and; 5) model stormwater management practices. 

Chapter one of the model resilience laws is devoted to basic zoning and land use tools that local governments can use to enhance resilience. Accordingly, the model notes that zoning laws are powerful tools to protect vulnerable areas like coastlines and suggests zoning measures that allow local governments to do so. The model includes suggested language for the zoning of waterfront, waterfront overlay, and waterfront bluff districts. The remaining bulk of the chapter is devoted to specific measures related to those zoning plans and subdivisions, such as lot sizes, building elevations, and site plan reviews. Each remaining chapter includes a suggested zoning practice related to the area’s features.

Chapter two addresses measures to protect wetlands and watercourses. Certain protective measures, such as intact floodplains and wetlands, come with benefits such as slowing the discharge of built up stormwater, which can mitigate flooding and other concerns. Chapter two is divided into two complementary parts for the wetland and watercourse aspects of this management area. The first models protective measures for wetlands including wetlands conservation overlay districts and wetlands buffers. Part two models similar measures for watercourses, including a watercourse overlay district and zoning standards for streams. 

Chapter three outlines model measures to promote coastline protection, preserve natural protective features of shorelines, and mitigate the impacts of sea-level rise and storm surges on the built environment. Model laws include two approaches to coastal erosion hazard management, coastal erosion setbacks, and model governance mechanisms to protect beaches, dunes, and vegetation. 

Chapter four addresses model regulations for floodplain management. The publication notes that developing within a floodplain can have extensive consequences, and that most New York municipalities have their own flood damage prevention laws as part of compliance with the National Flood Insurance Program. The chapter outlines measures such as limiting development in 50- and 100-year floodplains, zoning of floodplain overlay districts similar to those in previous chapters (e.g., the waterfront overlay district in chapter one or the watercourse overlay district in chapter two), several model flood damage prevention laws, and rules related to areas behind levees. 

Lastly, while chapter two contemplates slowing of stormwater discharge as a benefit of good watercourse management, chapter five addresses stormwater management specifically. Proper management of water runoff features can moderate the speed of runoff and reduce pollution found in it, allowing it to properly recharge groundwater reserves. The chapter thus outlines measures like erosion control performance standards, an overlay district for steep slopes prone to runoff, and how to establish a stormwater utility. 

The model rules do not constitute legally binding requirements or standards, and use of the guidance provided by the model should not substitute for a municipality’s consultation with an attorney.

Publication Date: June 2019

Related Organizations:

  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)

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  • Best practice
  • Laws

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