Winner's Legislation Establishes Training Standard For Local Planning Officials

George Winner

May 09, 2006

Albany, N.Y.-- The New York State Senate today unanimously approved legislation sponsored by Senator George H. Winner, Jr. (R-C, Elmira) to establish minimum training requirements for municipal planning and zoning officials.

The legislation was approved by a vote of 55 to 0.

"The challenges facing local planning and zoning officials have enormous implications for rural communities and localities across New York State," said Winner, chairman of the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources. "Local officials are given the primary responsibility for regulating local land use in New York State. Training in modern land use tools and strategies can help these officials better address land use decisions that have become increasingly complex and decisive to the future quality of our communities. So many of these decisions impact the traditional foundations of rural communities, especially agriculture, natural resources and open space. We need to try to ensure that local land use decisions are made with as much effectiveness, foresight and training as possible.¨

Winner said that no uniform statutory standards currently exist for training municipal planning and zoning officials in New York. The legislation (S.6316) he sponsors, which has bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly, proposes a minimum training standard of four hours annually for members of local planning boards, zoning boards of appeal and county planning boards.

The legislation provides municipalities with the flexibility to structure the training requirement in a variety of ways. Training may be obtained through a range of sources, according to Winner. A wide variety of land use training is available throughout the state at no cost to participants, so that the four-hour minimum requirement can be obtained with minimal fiscal impact. For example, the Department of State hosts training courses throughout the year at various locations statewide. The state Association of Towns, Conference of Mayors and Planning Federation offer training. Free training and distance learning is available on line.

Winner cited a growing consensus among planning federations, local governments, builders institutes, insurance companies, economic development corporations, land preservation trusts, environmental groups and others that well trained municipal planning and zoning board members are essential to maintaining and enhancing quality communities.

Furthermore, Winner noted that the need to provide training for local planning and zoning officials was consistently highlighted by participants at a series of "listening sessions" sponsored by the Rural Resources Commission throughout nine upstate New York communities earlier this year. The Commission joined with experts from Cornell University and its Cooperative Extension Service, a nationally recognized leader on rural affairs, to conduct the listening sessions in order to give local leaders, farmers, advocates, concerned citizens and others an opportunity to share their ideas and suggestions for public policies to address the needs of rural regions. A comprehensive State of Rural New York Conference is being planned within the coming year to cement a more concrete working agenda for federal, state and local policymakers.

It’s widely believed that well considered and timely land use decisions by a municipal board or commission helps attract promoters of quality community development, including those considering residential, commercial, agricultural, industrial, open space, recreational and main street projects. Sound land use decisions result in fewer lawsuits and can help lower municipal liability insurance costs.