Background Information

B002_C020_06140J (3)Towns, villages, businesses and interest groups in the Thousand Islands have decided to partner with the New York Department of State’s Office of Planning and Development (DOS) to evaluate, promote and protect the region’s unique scenic resources.  Protecting this resource for future generations and promoting the economy of the region is a central goal of the project, called the “Thousand Islands Regional Assessment Project” (TIRAP).   The ultimate goal of the project is to identify scenic resources of statewide significance.

The goals of the project include:

  • Increase recognition of the Thousand Islands area in order to attract visitors
  • Improve opportunities for grants related to economic development, natural and scenic resource protection
  • Identify scenic landscapes using state standards and local input
  • Involve community members in identifying important areas
  • Protect coastal scenic resources that are important to the communities

Dodson & Flinker, a firm of landscape architects and regional planners, has been hired to work with the project team and local communities to inventory and assess the region’s scenic landscapes.   This will be done using a method developed by DOS for use in the State’s coastal areas and already implemented in the Hudson River Valley and in the Town of East Hampton on Long Island.

Law and Policy

New York State also has long recognized the importance of scenic resources.  In 1981, the New York State Legislature enacted a law that stated  “…that New York State’s coastal area and inland waterways are unique with a variety of natural, recreational, industrial, commercial, ecological, cultural, aesthetic and energy resources of statewide and national significance.”  (Article 42, s.910).   The legislature designated the NYS Department of State, Office of Planning & Development as the state agency responsible for implementing this law, in collaboration with local communities.

That same document went on to explain the Division of Coastal Resources should “achieve a balance between economic development and preservation that will permit the beneficial use of coastal resources while preventing the loss of living marine resources and wildlife, diminution of open space areas or public access to the waterfront, shoreline erosion, impairment of scenic beauty, or permanent damage to ecological systems.” (Article 42, s.912).

The Federal Coastal Zone Management Act also recognizes the importance of aesthetic values in managing coastal resources. The Act states that it is the national policy “to encourage and assist the states to…achieve wise use of the land and water resources of the coastal zone, giving full consideration to ecological, cultural, historic, and aesthetic values….”.

The NY State Legislature included scenic character as a key coastal resource protected by law. The Coastal Management Division believes, of the waterfront’s many attributes, its scenery is perhaps the most universally appreciated. A major component of community character is a community’s scenic resources, with special landscape features and views contributing to visual quality. It feels that in order to protect community character, the scenic characteristics of the waterfront and community should be considered when making planning and development decisions.

As a result, the Department of State has 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 as Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance (SASS). The SASS designation protects scenic landscapes through a review of projects requiring State or federal actions, including direct actions, permits, or funding. Guidance for assessing the overall visual characteristics of a waterfront is included in the Making the Most of Your Waterfront guidebook.

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 Scenic Areas of Statewide Significance. You can visit the following website to read the full investigation and resulting report: http://www.dos.ny.gov/opd/programs/HudsonSASS/Hudson%20River%20Valley%20SASS.pdf

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 a SASS. A full report can be found by visiting the following website: http://www.dos.ny.gov/opd/programs/pdfs/SASS_Report20081229_All.pdf

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 Process

The process to obtain the SASS designation is governed by rigorous state standards designed to ensure that a consistent approach is used in evaluating scenic character in a consistent way throughout the state’s coastlines.   The goal of the process is to identify a community’s scenic resources, and asking how they can be improved or protected. The following paragraphs are taken from the Guidebook mentioned above.

Scenic resources are tied to other values; the open spaces might be working agricultural landscapes, the harbors and marinas part of a working maritime waterfront, the wetlands and woodlands are important natural habitats. Scenic qualities combine with recreational possibilities to make the coast a prime location for vacationers, offering the potential for growth of the tourist industry as well as helping to make the waterfront attractive for residential and economic development.

One of the challenges will be balancing these competing issues to protect scenic quality. Although many communities have recognized the value and benefits of scenic resources, protection and management of these resources has not always been effectively accomplished.

Local government land use regulations are perhaps the most effective way to protect scenic resources. Typical guidelines for siting structures and facilities that could be included within local regulations include:

  • Set-backs
  • Clustering
  • Historic
  • Preservation
  • Landscaping
  • Open Up Views
  • Design
  • Lighting

Another way of protecting scenic resources is the conservation of open space, natural areas, and cultural resources through capital spending by federal, State, or local government, either directly or through grant programs. Partnerships with local landowners and businesses and with nonprofit organizations, particularly land trusts and environmental organizations, can also help communities to protect scenic resources.

According to Policy 24 of 19 NYCRR Part 602, the following general criteria will determine significance:

  • Variety:  A wide variety of visual elements often create scenic quality. This variety is not, however, so great as to be chaotic.
  • Unity:  Scenic coastal landscapes also exhibit unity of components. This unity is not, however, so complete as to be monotonous. Example: the Thousand Islands where the mix of water, land, vegetative and man-made components creates interesting variety, while the organization of these same components creates satisfying unity.
  • Contrast:  Often, high quality landscapes contain striking contrasts between lines, forms, textures and colors. Example: A waterfall where horizontal and vertical lines and smooth and turbulent textures meet in dramatic juxtaposition.
  • Form, Line, Color and Texture:  These visual elements often combine to create high quality scenic landscapes.
  • Free of Discordant Features:  High quality landscapes are generally free of discordant features, such structures or other elements which are inappropriate in terms of siting, form, scale, and/or materials.
  • Uniqueness:  The uniqueness of high quality landscapes is determined by the frequency of occurrence of similar resources in a region of the State or beyond.
  • Public Accessibility. A scenic resource of significance must be visually and, where appropriate, physically accessible to the public.
  • Public Recognition. Widespread recognition of a scenic resource is not a characteristic intrinsic to the resource. It does, however, demonstrate people’s appreciation of the resource for its visual, as well as evocative, qualities. Public recognition serves to reinforce analytic conclusions about the significance of a resource.

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