By Chris Hoffman
(Sherburne, NY – Jan. 2012) David Slottjie, Executive Director, and Helen Holden Slottjie, Managing Attorney, are lawyers with the Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc. (CEDC). They have stated that, in their opinion, “a New York municipality has the legal authority and right to use land-use laws (such as zoning laws) to prohibit … high-impact industrial uses, either in certain zoning districts or throughout an entire town. Furthermore, we believe this authority and power legally may be exercised in a manner that, depending upon the municipality’s particular definition of ‘high-impact industrial uses,’ will have the incidental effect of prohibiting (within the town) land uses such as unconventional gas drilling.”
Exclusion of industrial uses is unquestionably a proper and legitimate use of land-use laws, according to the CEDC. Both the U.S. Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals have set legal precedent affording towns the ability to use zoning laws to protect public welfare. In 1996, the NY Court of Appeals ruled, “A municipality is not obligated to permit the exploitation of any and all natural resources within the town if limiting that use is a reasonable exercise of its police power to prevent damage to the rights of others and to promote the interests of the community as a whole.”
Municipalities in New York State do have a legal right to ban industrial activity by enforcing or enacting land-use laws. The rights of municipalities to ban activities such as gas drilling have not, despite what pro-drillers may claim, been preempted by State law, as long as these activities “fall within the definition of ‘high-impact industrial uses’ contained in a town’s zoning law.”
The Court of Appeals has ruled that the NYS drilling statute that “precludes municipalities from regulating the oil, gas, and mining industries” applies only to operational processes and that “municipalities absolutely could prohibit [such activities] outright, whether in certain zoning districts or throughout an entire town.”
CEDC has thus recommended that NYS municipalities “seeking to preserve their character and avoid industrialization” adopt a zoning law that specifically prohibits high-impact industrial use of land within the municipality.
Both David Slottjie and Helen Holden Slottjie are available to confer with representatives of any municipality or community group on the issue of creating zoning and land use ordinances that will protect communities from the effects of high-impact industrialization associated with gas drilling.
Both are pro bono attorneys who do not charge for their time. They can be contacted by mail at PO Box 898, Ithaca, NY 14851; by phone at 607-351-8125; or by email at email@example.com.
CEDC is a non-profit public interest law firm based in Ithaca, dedicated to “using the power of the law to help communities and citizen groups in New York whose land, air, water, health, and quality of life are threatened by resource extraction activities and associated industrialization.”
CEDC provides free high quality legal advocacy and assistance to communities and citizen groups to help in obtaining the benefit of environmental protection laws. CEDC provides legal education to communities and advises on options that are available to preserve these rights.
CEDC provides representation in matters where it would not be economically feasible for communities or citizen groups to hire a traditional private law firm. CEDC does not accept contributions from entities that earn their income from practices or activities that they oppose or that run counter to their mission. CEDC relies entirely upon donations and grants from foundations and individuals that desire to see their communities and the environment receive expert legal representation.
If you serve on a town board, you owe it to your constituents to investigate all avenues available to you to protect your citizenry from the potential detrimental repercussions of industrialization. The CEDC offers expert legal advice to enable you to do the job you were elected to do.
If you do not serve on a town board, but you want your local representatives to do everything possible to protect your rights as a landowner, let them know about the CEDC and ask them to investigate. More information is available at cedclaw.org.
Time is of the essence! If your town is even thinking about revising its zoning laws or land use laws in response to what seems to be the inevitable approval of hydrofracking, now is the time to address these issues. Once the SGEIS is finalized and the DEC begins to issue permits, it will be too late. Revised zoning and land-use laws must be in place prior to the granting of permits to the gas companies, so act now!
Chris Hoffman lives in the village of Sherburne in her 150+ year-old house where she caters to the demands of her four cats, attempts to grow heirloom tomatoes and herbs and reads voraciously. She passionately pursues various avenues with like-minded friends to preserve and protect a sustainable rural lifestyle for everyone in Central New York.