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New York State General Municipal Law Sections 239-l, m, n, and nn requires municipal boards to refer certain development applications, proposed zoning changes, and comprehensive plans to the County Planning Board for review before taking final action.

The purpose of the law is to encourage local decision-makers to consider the inter-community and countywide impacts of local land use changes and add a regional perspective to local land use decisions. The process allows local officials to take advantage of the professional planning expertise at the County level. In addition, it helps the County Planning Board follow development trends throughout the County.

Local officials who should be aware of the law's requirements include town supervisors, village mayors, town and village clerks, zoning enforcement officers, members of local planning boards, town and village boards and zoning boards of appeals.

Which actions should be referred?

The following municipal actions may be subject to County Planning Board review:

  • Adoption or amendment of a comprehensive plan.
  • Adoption or amendment of a zoning ordinance or local law.
  • Issuance of special use permits.
  • Approval of site plans.
  • Other authorizations which a referring body may issue under the provisions of any zoning ordinance or local law.
  • Granting of use or area variances.

By law, the application or amendment must be referred to the County Planning Board if it applies to real property within 500 feet of:

  • Any municipal boundary.
  • The right-of-way of any state or county road.
  • A state or county park or recreation area (existing or proposed)
  • State or county land on which a public building or institution is located.
  • A farm operation within an Agricultural District as defined by Article 25-AA of the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law.
  • Existing or proposed right-of-way of any county stream or drainage channel.

The municipal board that has jurisdiction over the application is responsible for referring it to the County Planning Board. This may be the Planning Board, the Town or Village Board, or the Zoning Board of Appeals, depending on the type of application.

What are the referral procedures?

If the application is subject to County review, the municipal board must send a full statement of the proposed action, including a completed "Part 1 - Planning / Zoning Coordination Referral" form to the County Planning Board.

The full statement should include the following information:

  • The type of application (variance, rezoning, site plan review, special use permit, or amendment to the text of the zoning law ordinance.
  • The exact location and boundaries of the proposed action.
  • The zoning district in which the property is located.
  • A description of the proposed land use change, in enough detail to allow the County Planning Board to evaluate its potential impacts.
  • If required, a completed Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) as well as all other materials used by the referring body to make a determination of significance under SEQR.

For each referral, the County Planning Board considers:

  • Compatibility with neighboring land uses.
  • Effects of additional traffic.Impacts on state or county institutions.
  • Compatibility with the official development plans of the county and the municipality.
  • Protection of community character and appearance.

After review, the County Planning Board sends its recommendation, with supporting comments, back to the municipal board. The County shall recommend approval, modification, or disapproval, or may report that the proposed action has no significant countywide or inter-community impact.

How do County referrals affect local decision-making?

The municipal board can make its final decision on the application after it receives the County Planning Board's recommendation.  The municipal board may also make a final decision on the application if 30 days have lapsed since the submission of a full statement to the County Planning Board.

The municipal board is not obligated to follow the County Planning Board's recommendation. However, if the County Planning Board recommends disapproval or modifications, the municipal board's vote to approve the application must be supported by a majority plus one of its members, rather than a simple majority. In addition, the municipal board must adopt a resolution listing the reasons for its decision.

What is the time schedule for referrals?

The County Planning Board and Planning Department make every effort to respond to referrals promptly and to accommodate the locally required time limits. The municipal board must send the referral so that it arrives at least one week before the County Planning Board's regular monthly meeting.  The Cattaraugus County Planning Board meets on the last Thursday of each month at 6:30 PM. If the Board receives a complex referral less than one week before its regular meeting, it may be necessary to defer review until the following month.

If the County does not respond within 30 days of receipt of the full statement the local board may proceed.

What are the legal consequences of neglecting referrals?

Neglecting to send a Section 239 zoning referral to the County Planning Board may constitute a "procedural error" which could legally invalidate a local land use decision. If challenged in court, a local decision on an application may be overturned if the municipality failed to make the proper zoning referral to the County Planning Board. As on all legal matters, to clarify these legal implications, the municipal board should contact its town or village attorney.

What are the final steps required?

The County Planning Board will send a "Part 2 - Action Taken" form to the municipality which details its recommendation. To comply with State law, the municipal board must complete, sign and return a "Part 3 - Local Notice of Final Action on Zoning Referral Only" form to the County Planning Department within one week of making its final decision on the application.  These two forms are part of the County Zoning Referral Form, which may be downloaded here:

Cattaraugus County Zoning Referral Form - Part 1

Zoning Referral Exemption

Pursuant to Section 239-m (3)(c) of NYS General Municipal Law, the County Planning Board and a local board may enter into a zoning referral exemption agreement, where certain actions typically requiring referral to the County Planning Board may be deemed to be of a local nature and therefore exempt from zoning referral.  The Cattaraugus County Planning Board has developed a list of proposed actions which it deems to be of local concern and therefore can be exempt from review at the county level.  A local municipal board may enter into an agreement with the County Planning Board to adopt this list of exemptions so that these proposed actions would only require local approval.  A sample resolution and list of exempt actions can be viewed here.

Referral Exemption Agreement

Questions on Zoning

For more information about zoning referrals, please contact the Planning office.