Last Revised 3/20/01


The subdivision review process is a critical tool in local land-use management for ensuring the orderly development of the municipality. The subdivision process controls the manner by which land is divided into smaller tracts of land. Subdivision regulations require the developer to provide adequately designed streets, lots, open space, and infrastructure and to follow the municipality’s land use objectives. A municipality that decides to introduce subdivision review must follow the New York State enabling statutes as explained in the General City Law 32 and 33, Town Law 276 and 277, and Village Law 7-72 and 7-730.

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 subdivision plat review. A "plat" is a map prepared by a professional which shows the subdivision’s lots, roads, driveways, water and sewer facilities, and the natural and physical characteristics of the land proposed for subdivision. The Planning Board will determine if the land can be subdivided and developed without danger to public health, safety and welfare or peril from fire, flood, drainage or other threats for neighboring properties. The proposed subdivision has also to comply with the local Zoning Ordinance, the Comprehensive Plan (Master Plan), if one exists, the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and individual lots of a proposed subdivision may be subject to a Site Plan Review.

The State enabling statutes specify the procedures for the subdivision review. Most municipalities use the mandatory two-step process of reviewing the preliminary and final plats. By using their home rule power, some municipalities require in addition an informal sketch plan to identify potential problems or concerns even before the formal submittal of the preliminary plat. The statutes also require that a public hearing be held at the preliminary stage to hear the concerns of residents living in the vicinity of the proposed development site. Once the Planning Board approves the preliminary plat, the developer presents the final plat. The final plat should show the subdivision layout, explain the elements contained in the preliminary plat in greater detail, and incorporate those changes required by the Planning Board at the time of the preliminary plat approval. A second public hearing may be held.

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 Subdivision 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.

In general, the developer is required to apply certain drainage and storm water management techniques. On-site water and sewer systems on subdivisions containing five or more lots which are five acres or less in size have to be approved by the County Health Department as explained in the Public Health Law (exit this site)and the Environmental Conservation Law (exit this site). Soils and plants are natural filters that remove contaminants from surface water before it reaches the groundwater. For this reason, to preserve as many trees and vegetative cover as possible is essential for maintaining water quality. The Planning Board, on the basis of existing and anticipated needs, may require that a proposed subdivision containing residential units must provide parks or open land suitably located for playgrounds or other recreational purposes. To preserve the natural and scenic qualities of open lands, the Planning Board may also require cluster development.

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

Municipal Comparisons

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

City of Ithaca

Town of Caroline

Town of Catherine

Town of Cortlandville

Town of Covert

Town of Danby

Town of Dryden

Town of Fayette

Town of Groton

Town of Homer

Town of Ithaca

Town of Lansing

Town of Seneca Falls

Town of Spencer

Town of Ulysses

Town of Varick

Town of Virgil

Village of Cayuga

Village of Lansing

Village of Trumansburg


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CLW IO 2004