Last Revised 3/20/01


The site plan review process is an effective tool in local land-use management for ensuring that the development of a particular parcel follows the municipality’s land-use objectives. The review process is concerned with the development of lands intended for non-residential or multi-family housing purposes. The site plan review addresses a wide range of issues including the consistency with surrounding land-uses; the effects on parking and traffic flow; the potential impact of odors and noise on the neighborhood; and the range of public services (e.g. utilities, schools etc.) needed to service the new development. A municipality that decides to introduce site plan review must follow the New York State enabling statutes as explained in the General City Law 27-a, Town Law 274-a, and Village Law 7-725-a.

The State enabling statutes give the local governing body (e.g. Town or Village Board) the power to authorize a board or council (e.g. Planning Board) to conduct site plan review. A "site plan" is a drawing that shows the arrangement, layout, and design of the proposed use of a single parcel of land. The required site plan elements include, where appropriate, parking, means of access, screening, signs, landscaping, architectural features, the dimension of buildings, adjacent land-uses and additional elements specified by local laws. Although not required by the State enabling statutes, municipalities should possess a Zoning Ordinance before enacting site development review regulations. Zoning regulations that reflect general municipal land-use objectives provide a better base for making sound and just land-use decisions. A local site plan review requirement may be incorporated into the Zoning Ordinance, or may be passed as a separate law or ordinance. A site development plan must also comply with the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

The State enabling statutes require a single-phase approval procedure. Many municipalities, however, have chosen the two-phase procedure: the pre-submission and final submission phases. Although not required by state law, the two-phase procedure is an appropriate choice because it provides a means for ensuring adequate safeguards for the community and also protects the developer from excessive money and time investments prior to the site plan approval. Once submitted, the Planning Board approves or disapproves the site plan or imposes reasonable conditions and restrictions that are directly related to the development plan. On the base of existing or future need, the Planning Board may also require the developer to set aside land suitable for playground or other recreational purposes. A public hearing may be held at the discretion of the Planning Board or if local laws require it.

The State enabling statutes provide municipalities the tools to effectively protect public health by managing local water resources and preserving and improving water quality. Most Site Plan Review and Zoning Ordinances* throughout the Cayuga Watershed region require Planning Boards to consider development impact on erosion, sedimentation, drainage, flooding, water and sewer systems. Developers are often required to adopt adequate designs and measures to mitigate development impact. However, adequacy is very often not specified. Depending on how strict they are, mitigation measures and design standards can help to preserve and improve water quality.

The provision that Planning Boards may require open space preservation is perhaps is the most effective means to filter surface water before it reaches the groundwater level, thus preserving and improving local water quality. In addition, municipalities must follow SEQRA provisions which affect water quality through drainage and storm water management. But individual municipalities may adopt site development criteria more stringent than those outlined in the State enabling statutes.

 * Some municipalities adopted Site Plan Review provisions as part of their Zoning Ordinance.

Municipal Comparisions

Exceptional Site Plan Review Ordinances (only ordinances with water quality related provisions are included)

City of Ithaca

Town of Summer Hill

Town of Ulysses


Return to Regulatory Management

< <


To contact the Cayuga Lake Watershed Intermunicipal Organization.

or email

CLW IO 2004