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Editorial: A good day for home rule

Tuesday, July 1, 2014
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If your community decides it doesn't want a big-box store or a trash-burning plant or a large housing development or a strip club, it has the power to create zoning and planning regulations that can prevent those activities from being located there.

That's what local governments are for. That's why they exist. That's why voters in the Washington County village of Greenwich, for instance, just last week rejected a ballot proposal to dissolve the village government and merge with the surrounding town. They wanted to retain local control over what happens in their community, in their neighborhoods, in their homes.

So it should come as good news for all residents of the state that New York's Court of Appeals on Monday upheld the right of local communities to ban the practice of hydraulic hydrofracking in their communities through restrictive zoning codes.

These projects not only have the potential to harm the environment, but they also can place a heavy burden on local roads and bridges, take farmland out of production, and disrupt the local quality of life, including rural character and tourism activities.

In upholding two lower court rulings, the state's highest court on Monday cited a number of examples in the state constitution, as well as some of its own rulings, that upheld the right of local governments to act in the "protection and enhancement of [their] physical and visual environment."

Interestingly, Monday's ruling included a reference to a 1997 decision involving the city of Schenectady and Union College. In that ruling, the court upheld the right of the college to expand operations into the GE Realty Plot for educational purposes, against restrictions contained in an amended city ordinance. But the court, in the same decision, ruled that "unquestionably, municipalities can enact land-use restrictions or controls to enhance the quality of life by preserving the character and desirable aesthetic features of a city."

Residents in more than 170 communities in central and western New York have passed zoning regulations to ban the activities related to hydrofracking. One of the towns involved in the litigation includes the village of Cooperstown. Imagine for a moment how Cooperstown would be forever altered by a hydrofracking operation it had no power to stop.

So the court allowed the town, and communities like it, to control their own destinies, not just against fracking but ostensibly against other operations that would negatively affect residents' way of life.

The court deserves praise for standing up to the powerful oil company interests and pressure from fracking supporters in order to preserve the basic American concept of home rule.

 
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