In an effort to promote sound development, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has begun checking to see whether new projects conform with local land use ordinances before issuing environmental permits.
The policy, which is expected to affect between 5,000 and 25,000 permits reviewed annually by the DEP, took effect in September.
“While other states have looked at how funding decisions affect land use, Pennsylvania is one of the first states to require that local land use plans be considered as part of state environmental reviews of private projects,” said DEP Secretary Jim Seif.
The authority to review projects for land use compliance stems from the “Growing Smarter” legislation approved earlier this year that is aimed at curbing sprawl by encouraging communities to work together on land use issues and directing state agencies to adopt policies that discourage sprawl.
Gov. Tom Ridge ordered all state agencies to implement plans promoting sound land use policies by Nov. 1.
The DEP action affects applicants for nearly 80 types of air, water, waste and mining permits. The review is triggered for any permit application the DEP must review for new facilities, such as buildings, and for infrastructure, such as transportation, water, stormwater, power lines and communication structures.
Applicants must answer questions to determine whether the project would conflict with comprehensive plans and zoning ordinances adopted by counties and local governments.
Also, the DEP is requiring that applicants give more notice to counties and municipalities hosting the project, and to specifically seek comments on potential conflicts with local land use plans.
The DEP has the option of denying a permit application that conflicts with land use ordinances, or it may attach a special condition to the permit to minimize, or resolve, a conflict. The department can also approve a permit where a conflict is considered minor, or where it deems public needs outweigh land use concerns.
Seif said the DEP would also consider benefits such as the redevelopment of brownfields when reviewing permits, or whether they support locally designated growth areas.
He said the added measures should not lengthen the time it takes the agency to review applications.