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Better Site Design Program for the Hudson River Estuary Program

What is better site design?

Better site design is an approach to development that utilizes a set of design principles that protect natural areas, reduce impervious surfaces, and better integrate stormwater treatment in development projects.

What are the benefits of better site design?

Rain Garden in Rockland County
Rain Garden Boy Scout Project in
Rockland County

By delineating and protecting natural areas and wildlife habitat, communities and development projects are enhanced and stormwater management costs are reduced. By managing water on-site with attractive practices, groundwater aquifers are replenished, flooding is reduced, and pollutants in stormwater are treated before entering local waterways, providing long-term benefits to a community.

How does better site design compare with low impact development?

Better site design and low impact development are really the same set of practices, with somewhat more emphasis on hydrology and engineering in low impact development, and somewhat more emphasis on changing municipal codes in better site design.

How can we incorporate better site design in development projects?

Better site design is implemented in two ways: in development projects and in municipal codes.

1) Development Projects: Developers, builders, engineers and landscape architects can incorporate better site design practices in the design and construction of development projects. Some of these practices are required, some are voluntary.

  • Required practices: The New York SPDES General Permit for Stormwater Discharges from Construction Activities (GP-02-01) requires that all development projects causing 1 acre of soil disturbance or more, or those in certain watersheds, must incorporate practices that reduce the impacts of stormwater from the site. New York Standards and Specifications for Erosion and Sediment Control and the New York State Stormwater Management Design Manual provide the standards for stormwater management practices in construction projects. To offer flexibility, the Stormwater Design Manual has details for 25 practices in six different categories, including bioretention, infiltration and swales.

  • Optional practices for better site design: The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a guidance document titled, "Better Site Design". This document provides guidance for developers, engineers and designers to plan for and implement 18 different better site design practices for new development and redevelopment. In addition, a new Chapter 9 of the New York State Stormwater Management Design Manual provides detailed specifications for five of these better site design practices approved for redevelopment projects: rain gardens, cisterns, green roofs, stormwater planters and permeable paving. These practices can be considered for new development through a 60-day NYSDEC review process when used in a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.

  • Optional planning to incorporate stormwater credits: Stormwater control practices that take advantage of the natural landscape and vegetation of a site (non-structural practices) are being used more frequently in environmentally-sound development. "Use and Implementation of Stormwater Credits," provides guidance on six non-structural site-level design options that can reduce or eliminate structural stormwater practices depending on soils, topography and other factors. These design options also require a 60-day NYSDEC review process when used in a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan.

2) Municipal Codes: Local land use laws often discourage better site design. Municipalities are encouraged to review and consider amending their local codes to incorporate better site design practices. The Center for Watershed Protection in Maryland developed a set of tools for states, watershed groups and municipalities to use including a handbook, "Better site design, A Handbook for Changing Development Rules in Your Community," which includes a "Code and Ordinance Worksheet." For more information about the Center for Watershed Protection, please use the Links Leaving DEC's Website in the menu on the right side of this page.

The Hudson River Estuary Program has revised these tools for closer applicability to New York State and the Hudson River estuary watershed (New York State Code and Ordinance Worksheet) (pdf, 259 KB)

Has better site design been done anywhere?

Town of Wappinger report cover pageThe Towns of Clinton and Wappinger in Dutchess County conducted better site design roundtables in 2005 resulting in two documents,

In July 2007, the Town of Wappinger adopted 22 out of the 36 local code changes recommended by the roundtable participants.

In other states, municipalities in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the Tennessee Valley Authority's watershed have used the Code and Ordinance worksheet and Better site design Roundtables to identify and come to consensus on local code changes to protect their water resources.

How can we find out more about Better site design?

National NEMO Network logo
The Hudson River Estuary Program
is a member of the National
NEMO Network

Contact the Hudson River Estuary Program

Telephone: 845-256-3016

Fax: 845-255-3649

e-mail: Hrep@dec.ny.gov