Division of Planning

Waterfront Revitalization

New York State’s waterfronts are exciting and diverse – from Niagara Falls to Montauk Point; from New York Harbor to the lakes of the Catskills and the Adirondacks; from the Delaware River to the Finger Lakes; and from the Hudson River and the Canal system to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. With ninety percent of the state’s population and a wide variety of economic activities concentrated in the communities along its waterfronts, from the largest cities to the smallest hamlets, the waterfront plays a vital role in the lives of New Yorkers.

More and more people are recognizing that their waterfronts can bring new life and energy to their communities. They are doing this by creating new economic activity, redeveloping historic and abandoned structures, improving waterfront recreation, and restoring and protecting natural resources. They have found that the keys to making the most of their waterfront assets include a clear vision and plan, broad public involvement, creative partnerships, patience, persistence and a step-by-step strategy.

The Waterfront Revitalization of Coastal Areas and Inland Waterways Act (pdf) is the statutory authority coordinating all actions affecting New York State’s coastal area and designated inland waterways. This law finds that the social and economic well-being and the general welfare of the people of the state are critically dependent upon the preservation, enhancement, protection, development and use of the natural and man-made resources of the state's coastal area and inland waterways.

New York State Coastal Management Program

In 1972, in response to growing concerns that development in coastal ecosystems was taking place without an overall strategy for comprehensive coastal management, and to increase state involvement in efforts by the federal government to protect the coastal zone, the federal government enacted the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA). The CZMA implements the federal Coastal Zone Management Program (CZMP),which provides the basis for protecting, restoring, and responsibly developing the nation’s important and diverse coastal communities and resources. The CZMP is administered at the federal level by the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management (OCRM) which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).The states’ participation in the CZMP is voluntary and NOAA recognizes that there are important cultural, economic, political, and environmental differences among the participating states and territories.

To foster an effective partnership among federal and state governments, the CZMP encourages each state to enact its own coastal management program (CMP) and provides funding for CMP administration after it becomes federally approved. For federal approval, the development of the CMP must involve local governments and state agencies. After a CMP is approved by the federal government, federal agencies can only undertake activities or issue permits affecting the coastal zone covered by the CMP if they are deemed "consistent to the maximum extent practical" with the coastal policies contained in the state’s CMP.

In 1981, the New York State Legislature enacted Article 42 of the Executive Law, the Waterfront Revitalization of Coastal Areas and Inland Waterways Act. In 1982, the New York State Coastal Management Program was created to establish the boundaries of the New York State Coastal Area within which the CMP applies, describe the organizational structure to implement the CMP, and provide a set of statewide policies enforceable on all State and Federal agencies which manage resources and coordinate actions along the State's coastline. Article 42 also offers local governments the opportunity to participate in the State's Coastal Management Program on a voluntary basis. Localities are encouraged to prepare and adopt Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs (LWRP) which in turn, would provide more detailed implementation of the State's Program through use of existing broad powers, such as those covering zoning and site plan review.

Long Island Sound Coastal Management Program

New York's Long Island Sound coast encompasses 304 miles of shoreline in Westchester, Bronx, Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk counties and its watershed is home to nearly 1.5 million people. Accelerated demands for development, declining water quality in harbors and embayments, and difficulties sustaining a healthy maritime economy, led our office to develop a regional approach to address the coastal management issues unique to Long Island Sound.
The Long Island Sound Coastal Management Program (LIS CMP) reviewed the Long Island Sound coast from four perspectives: the developed coast, the natural coast, the public coast, and the working coast. Each was considered for its own intrinsic value, and its interrelationship with the other coasts.
The LIS CMP is based on public consensus and close consultation with the state agencies whose programs and activities affect the coast. It integrates the capabilities of state and local government into an enforceable program for the Sound. It complements the Long Island Sound Study’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, (pdf) which focuses on water quality in the deep waters of the Sound, by addressing the upland watershed and harbor and nearshore waters.

Major Findings in the LIS CMP include:

  • Open Space:  Within the next 20 years, the projected population increase in the Long Island Sound coastal area could result in near "build-out" under current zoning, eliminating many of the open areas that presently exist.

  • Natural Resources:  Erosion protection structures have hardened fifty percent of the natural shoreline, and building continues near the edge of bluffs. The Sound's vegetated wetlands have been reduced by 25% to 35%. Nonpoint source pollution threatens the ecological resources and economic activities of the Sound's embayments.

  • Working Waterfront:  There are over 193 water-dependent commercial and industrial businesses along the Sound shore, two-thirds of which are concentrated in ten harbors. Concerns include protecting essential services, such as waterborne transportation of sand and gravel; developing efficient passenger and cargo ferries; and improving petroleum transshipment and storage to protect the region's enclosed, shallow harbors.

  • Public Access:  Only four major recreational facilities along the Sound coast are open to the general public. Increases in the size and number of docks interfere with public trust rights by obstructing access along the shore and the nearshore waters.

This analysis led to the development of a new set of coastal policies that provide standards for region-specific planning, regulatory issues, and community needs. The LIS CMP Policies (pdf) consider the economic, environmental, and cultural characteristics of the Long Island Sound coastal region. They represent a balance between economic development and preservation that will permit beneficial use of and prevent adverse effects on the Sound's coastal resources.
Reflecting existing State laws and authorities, these regional policies take the place of the statewide policies of the New York State Coastal Management Program. (pdf) The policies are the basis for federal and state consistency determinations for activities affecting the Long Island Sound coastal area. They also guide the development of new Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs (LWRP) and revisions to approved Local Waterfront Revitalization Programs in the region.
Three types of special management areas emerged from the analysis: Maritime Centers, Waterfront Redevelopment Areas, and Regionally Important Natural Areas. Not only do these areas represent the extremes of development—those places where development clearly should not be encouraged and those places to where it should be directed—they also form the framework for the work on the Long Island Sound.

Major Recommendations in the Program included:

  • Maritime Centers focus on the working coast where State investment would bolster water-dependent commerce and industry. Such investments, combined with other incentives and regulatory streamlining, will mean the more efficient operation of harbors, while at the same time protecting and improving natural resources and water quality. The ten areas are Port Chester, Mamaroneck Harbor, New Rochelle Harbor/Echo Bay, City Island, Manorhaven/Port Washington, Glen Cove, Huntington Harbor, Northport Harbor, Port Jefferson, and Mattituck Inlet.

  • Waterfront Redevelopment Areas are where State efforts that encourage concentration of new growth to revitalize older urban waterfronts will be focused. Targeting investment in these areas will reduce urban sprawl, protect open areas, and reclaim abandoned public and private investment.

  • Regionally Important Natural Areas are areas with significant coastal resources that are sensitive to development. Here the State's priority is resource protection. Among the natural coastal areas are Oyster Bay-Cold Spring Harbor, Crab Meadow-Fresh Pond, and Stony Brook-Setauket Harbors.

Other Important Recommendations in the Program Included:

  • Public access on the Sound shore can be increased by creating a system of greenways and blueways to link public recreation and access areas.
  • Key wetlands along the Long Island Sound coast are identified for restoration. The regional analysis presents a wetlands mitigation strategy to ensure "no net loss" of wetlands. Together these can achieve a net gain in tidal wetlands.
  • The remaining 50% of the Sound's shoreline not already hardened should be maintained in a natural condition, and restored, when feasible.
  • New development in coastal high-hazard areas should be discouraged through a variety of incentives and disincentives.
  • To improve coastal water quality, management measures should be implemented to reduce nonpoint source pollution from a wide range of pollution-causing activities in the Sound watershed. In important oyster- and clam-producing embayments, such as Oyster Bay and Cold Spring Harbor, the analysis recommends that petroleum transshipment facilities be phased out.

The regional approach to coastal management developed for Long Island Sound strengthens the State's ability to act, rather than react, to influence the future of the coast. The detailed regional analysis gives a clear picture of where State action will make the greatest impact on the largest number of people and solve significant coastal management problems.

Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance

To complement the regional approach to waterfront revitalization, our office developed a scenic assessment program that identifies the scenic qualities of coastal landscapes, evaluates them against criteria for determining aesthetic significance, and recommends areas for designation by the Department of State as Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance (SASS). Under the Waterfront Revitalization and Coastal resources Act and the New York State Coastal Management Program, the Secretary of State is authorized to designate a SASS following a rigorous evaluation of the scenic quality of a coastal region to identify what portions should be designated. Designation provides special protection to the landscape through review of projects requiring State or federal actions, including direct actions, permits, or funding. In addition, municipalities can use their local land use authority to protect scenic resources including using the scenic areas narratives guidance in their Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). Guidance for assessing the overall visual characteristics of a waterfront is included in the Making the Most of Your Waterfront Guidebook (pdf).

The first application of the State’s scenic assessment program was in the Hudson River Valley coastal region, where six areas in Columbia, Greene, Dutchess and Ulster counties were designated in 1993 as a SASS. In 2010, nine areas totaling more than 25,000 acres on Long Island’s East End, within the Town and Village of East Hampton, were designated as SASSs. The areas in both the Hudson Valley and East End encompass unique, highly scenic landscapes accessible to the public and recognized for their outstanding quality. The State’s scenic assessment program can be easily applied in other regions throughout New York State and can be modified to assess scenic quality in an individual community, as was done in East Hampton.

  • East Hampton SASS (pdf)
  • Hudson River Valley SASS and Thousand Islands SASS are currently under construction.

Local Waterfront Revitalization Initiatives

Local initiatives cumulatively shape New York's waterfronts. It is the local decisions to develop, protect, restore, redevelop, or preserve the waterfront that will determine its characteristics far into the future. Our office assists individual communities to develop a vision and strategy to guide waterfront activities responsive to specific environmental, economic, and cultural conditions and issues characteristic of each community by developing public access, providing recreational opportunities, protecting historic and natural resources, improving water quality and revitalizing communities by enhancing their waterfronts. Over 300 coastal and inland waterway communities are working in partnership with our office.

Waterfront communities are encouraged to guide the beneficial use, revitalization, and protection of their waterfront resources through planning and implementing a Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP). An LWRP is a locally prepared, comprehensive land and water use plan for a community's natural, public, working and developed waterfronts, which provides a comprehensive management structure enabling a community to resolve critical coastal issues.

Our office administers funding under Title 11 of the New York State Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (EPF LWRP) a critical source of funding to revitalize communities and waterfronts. The awards allow municipalities and counties to improve waterfronts by financing a variety of planning, design, and construction projects that focus on economic, community, environmental and recreational improvements, reinforcing the Department of State and Secretary of State’s commitment to improving both local economies and the environment. Since 2007, our office has administered grant awards for 389 projects, totaling over $100 million.