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PURA v. City of Poughkeepsie Planning Board v. CPIDA v. Common Council

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Commissioner's Determination of Lead Agency
under Article 8 of the
Environmental Conservation Law

PROJECT: Five-Story Office Building in City of Poughkeepsie Queen City Urban Renewal Area

INVOLVED AGENCIES:

  • Poughkeepsie Urban Renewal Agency (PURA)
    City of Poughkeepsie Planning Board
    City of Poughkeepsie Industrial Development Agency (CPIDA)
    City of Poughkeepsie Common Council

This decision to designate the Poughkeepsie Urban Renewal Agency (PURA) as the lead agency for the conduct of an environmental review under the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) process is made pursuant to Article 8 of the Environmental Conservation Law and 6NYCRR Part 617. My reasons are that PURA has the broadest powers for investigation of the impacts of the proposed action. Such impacts are primarily of local concern. Since the disputant agencies are both served by the same staff (Poughkeepsie City Planning Department), there is no need to consider which agency has the greater capability of assessing the proposed action.

The lead agency dispute involves the proposed construction by Center Plaza Associates of a five-story, 71,000 square foot office building, which may also contain a restaurant and a bank, on a 0.38-acre site identified as PURA Parcel 7F (Civic Center Plaza III) in Downtown Poughkeepsie, New York. The site is part of the Queen City East Urban Renewal Project (N.Y. R-263) which was adopted as an Urban Renewal Plan in 1973. The parcel will be transferred from PURA to the City of Poughkeepsie Industrial Development Agency (CPIDA) which, in turn, will lease the site to a private developer who will construct the building and lease it for a 40-year period. During the twenty or more years in which the City's Urban Renewal Plan will remain in effect, PURA will have the ability to provide for a continuing limitation on the use of the premises.

The City of Poughkeepsie Planning Board must give site plan approval to the proposed development of Parcel 7F and has indicated its desire to serve as lead agency in response to PURA's indication of its own intent to serve in lead role. The City of Poughkeepsie Common Council may also be an involved agency by virtue of a proposal for its acceptance of a second mortgage for the proposed building. Neither the Common Council nor CPIDA have indicated a desire to serve as lead agency or dispute the assumption of lead by PURA. The members of PURA are the Mayor and Common Council of Poughkeepsie, and three of the five members of CPIDA are on the Common Council and a fourth from PURA staff.

It is difficult to understand why this matter has come to such a point that both city and state staff time must be expended to resolve the conduct of an environmental review process which will be carried out by the same support staff, no matter which agency is chosen as lead. It was within the realm of city government to resolve this matter in-house. The fundamental jurisdictions of each involved agency remains unchanged during and upon completion of the SEQR process. Given the proper conduct of the SEQR process, the lead agency must examine the environmental concerns of all the involved agencies notwithstanding its own particular bias regarding the proposed action. Each agency remains free to factor this environmental review against its significant concerns in reaching its ultimate decision. Determinations of significance by a lead agency must show that all substantive environmental concerns have been considered [see 617.6(g)(2) of 6NYCRR Part 617, the statewide regulations implementing SEQR]. Aggrieved parties may subject an agency's SEQR actions (or failure to act) to proceedings under Article 78 of the New York State Civil Practices Act.

In resolving a dispute about lead agency, I am guided by the three criteria listed in order of importance in 6NYCRR Section 617.6(e)(5). These are: (1) whether the anticipated impacts are primarily of local, regional or statewide significance; (2) which agency has the broadest powers for investigation of potential impacts; and (3) which agency has the greatest ability to provide a thorough environmental assessment of the proposed action.

As noted earlier, the first criteria has no bearing on my choice. It is clear that the impacts of the proposed action are primarily of local concern, and only local agencies are vying for lead role. Nor does the third of these criteria have relevance because the environmental assessment of the action will be carried out by the staff of the City Planning Department, no matter which of the two agencies is designated as lead.

Thus, my designation of lead hinges on which agency has the broadest powers for investigation of potential impacts. The site plan review powers of a planning board are quite extensive, as are the final decisions such board may exercise over the manner in which a proposed action will occur. Once such approval has been granted, the project may proceed in accord with the conditions of such approval.

The Poughkeepsie Urban Renewal Agency, on the other hand, also exercises broad review powers over any project which it is approving for a site within its jurisdiction. It too may assert conditions upon its approval and must look to its previously approved Urban Renewal Plan for guidance. Such plan serves as the basic overall comprehensive development plan for the area. In addition, PURA appears to have a longer term of jurisdiction over use changes within the Urban Renewal site, even after it has transferred land to other authorities. Thus, PURA has a more extensive need to examine both the immediate and long-term impacts of actions within its jurisdiction. Therefore, I am designating PURA to serve as lead agency for the conduct of SEQR for the proposed development of Urban Renewal Parcel #7F.

This decision in no way should reflect on the abilities of the Poughkeepsie Planning Board to conduct the SEQR process in future situations. Had it been locally agreed upon, the SEQR analysis for this project could have been conducted in comparable fashion by the Planning Board instead of PURA. I suggest it would be far more expedient for representatives of City of Poughkeepsie agencies to informally discuss with my staff [phone (518) 457-2224] any future situations of this nature, before resorting to a lead agency resolution request.

This decision does not in any manner limit the jurisdiction of any of the involved agencies or minimize their responsibilities to review this entire proposed action and to assist PURA in the completion of the environmental review process. Each agency should advise PURA of its environmental concerns, if any, as soon as possible so that they may be considered in PURA's determination of significance. Should an EIS be called for, involved agencies should also participate in its scoping.

/s/
Thomas C. Jorling Commissioner
Dated: Nov. 28, 1989
Albany, New York

Distribution of Copies:

  • Robert A. Bleakley, Mayor of City of Poughkeepsie and Chairman of PURA
    David Aldeborgh, Chairman of City Planning Board
    Susan Sanderson, Poughkeepsie City Planning Department
    City of Poughkeepsie Industrial Development Agency
    City of Poughkeepsie Common Council
    City of Poughkeepsie Historic District and Landmark Preservation Commission
    City of Poughkeepsie Zoning Board of Appeals
    Poughkeepsie City Manager
    Dutchess County Planning Dept.
    Dutchess County Dept. of Health

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation:

  • T. Jorling
    L. Marsh
    M. Gerstman
    G. Bowers
    J. Jensen
    F. Howell
    R. Manna (Region 3)
    P. Duke (Region 3)

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