A Good Step: Smart Growth Funding for Lower Hudson Valley

Governor Spitzer recently announced a $500,000 smart growth funding program for Lower Hudson Valley municipalities, as part of the Port Authority’s takeover of Stewart International Airport. According to the press release, the funding will be used for “regional and municipal planning to address the rapid growth in the region… [and] to ensure the key state agencies and authorities offer coordinated planning and technical assistance resources to local communities”. The program is the third announcement of the Governor’s Smart Growth Initiative. Programs for the Central Catskills and Adirondack Park are underway.

Nine state agencies will form a coordinated state planning council to coordinate the Lower Hudson Valley effort. A local advisory council of civic, environmental, and local officials will be established to “inform the process.”

The announcement is an appropriate companion to the Stewart Airport takeover, since many are worried about the sprawl generating aspects of a Port Authority airport expansion. It is also a good step for the region and something that locals have been craving for some time. Last November, four Rockland County leaders–Rockland County Legislative Chairwoman Harriet Cornell, Orangetown Supervisor Thom Kleiner, Rockland County Legislator Connie Coker, and South Nyack Mayor Tish Dubow–sent a letter to the NYS DOT project manager for the Tappan Zee Bridge/I-287 study requesting that the study include funding for local master planning efforts. The Tappan Zee Bridge study seeks to replace the bridge and add transit along 30 miles of the I-287 corridor, from Suffern to Port Chester, but has largely failed to incorporate a land use planning component.

The letter began, “We write to formally request that, as part of the multi-billion dollar Tappan Zee Bridge project, the NY State Department of Transportation, Metro-North Railroad, and the Thruway Authority allocate a significant level of resources for land use planning designed to allow municipalities in the project corridor to understand the implications and take full advantage of the anticipated transportation investment.” “To reap the greatest benefit,” the letter went on to say, “the corridor project must be designed to accommodate and promote community aspirations at the Village and Town level.” (Read the letter in full here.)

Unfortunately, the elected leaders never received a response from the State DOT.

Groups like the Tri-State Campaign and Regional Plan Association have said for years that the Tappan Zee project will not succeed without a strong land use component. While the $500,000 program is a good start to bringing smart planning into the project, not all of it will be spent along the I-287 corridor, and much more funding will ultimately be necessary to understand where transit stations should go and how development can be targeted around those stations. (Ideally, this sort of coordination should be part of all large transportation projects and be funded out of DOT’s budget, not from the more meager Environmental Protection Fund.) The creation of stakeholder Tappan Zee Bridge Working Groups, which gather smaller groups of local stakeholders for more intimate discussions, may also bode well for a strong land use component in the project going forward.

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