Two Decades Later, New York Proposes First Major Amendments to the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA)
Posted By Jose Almanzar on February 9, 2017
On January 17, 2017, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released proposed amendments to SEQRA – the department’s first major revisions to such regulations in more than two decades. The proposed amendments follow recent efforts by the DEC to modernize SEQRA and are intended to streamline the process by, among other things, new environmental assessment forms along with the creation of workbooks and a spatial data platform on DEC’s website (EAF Mapper). According to the DEC, the EAF Mapper “enables users in performing environmental assessments to access the same geographic information relied on by DEC staff.expanding the list of Type II actions that are not subject to SEQRA review.”
Notably, the proposed amendments to the Type II list of actions include building upgrades conducted to meet energy, building and fire codes. The DEC also proposes to add the “retrofit[ting] of an existing structure or facility to incorporate green infrastructure” to the list of Type II actions exempt from SEQRA review. The new term “Green Infrastructure” is defined to include “practices that manage storm water through infiltration, evapo-transpiration and reuse such as the use of permeable pavement; bioretention; green roofs and green walls; tree pits; storm water planters; rain gardens; vegetated swales; urban forestry programs; downspout disconnection; and storm water harvesting and reuse.”
New proposed Type II actions also include, but are not limited to: (i) brownfield site clean-up site agreements, provided the design and implementation of the remedy do not commit the DEC to specific future uses; (ii) the installation of fiber-optic cables in existing highway or utility rights of way; (iii) installation of cellular antennas on existing structures that are not listed on the National or State registers of historic places; (iv) the installation of five megawatts or less of solar energy panels on a landfill, brownfield site, waste-water treatment facility or site zoned for industrial use; (v) subdivisions defined as “minor” under a municipality’s subdivision regulations (or subdivision of four or fewer lots) that involve ten acres or less; and (vi) the transfer of five acres or less by a municipality or public corporation to a non-profit corporation for the construction or rehabilitation of one, two or three family housing.
However, the proposed amendments also include new Type I actions, which are those actions or projects “that are more likely to require the preparation of an EIS than Unlisted actions.” For example, the DEC proposes to add to the Type I list new non-residential construction projects that include “parking for 500 vehicles in a city, town or village having a population of 150,000 persons or less.” The amendments would also make scoping of environmental impact statements (see 6 NYCRR 617.8) mandatory (scoping is now optional), and more precisely define the acceptance procedures for draft environmental impact statements (EIS).
Comments on the proposed amendments will be accepted until the close of business on May 19, 2017. A public hearing will be held on March 31, 2017. The hearing will begin at 1:00 pm at 625 Broadway, Albany, New York, Public Assembly Room 129.
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