CASE STUDY: New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program

Case Study
New York’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program

New York State

1982 – ongoing

Since the inception of New York’s Coastal Management Program in 1982, many local governments throughout the state’s coastal region have participated in the Department of State Division of Coastal Resource’s signature effort – its Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), and developed comprehensive land and water-use plans. Any village, town or city located along NY’s coast or designated inland waterway can participate in the program. Having an LWRP can increase a community’s ability to attract appropriate development that respects its unique cultural and natural character. While LWRPs have been developed by many NY communities, the following case study highlights the implementation of LWRPs for the City of New York, the Village of Greenport, and the Town of East Hampton.


In 1982, the NY Department of State (DOS) developed an integrated, comprehensive approach to waterfront planning and community revitalization. Together, the DOS and municipal partners have invested over $320 million through the Environmental Protection Fund LWRP program. The DOS takes an active role with communities, providing them with technical assistance to develop and implement waterfront plans and projects.

The Waterfront Revitalization of Coastal Areas and Inland Waterways Act 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.

NY’s LWRP provides a state-wide framework for communities to develop and implement local plans for appropriate future development of their waterfront. LWRPs are a potentially transferable tool to other states interested in community-based waterfront revitalization efforts.

Best Practices

A LWRP is both a land and water use plan as well as a strategy to implement the plan. The program may be comprehensive and address all issues that affect a community’s entire waterfront, or it may address only the most critical issues facing a significant portion of the waterfront. As a planning document, a LWRP is a locally prepared land and water use plan for a community’s developed, natural, public and working waterfronts. It provides a comprehensive framework within which a community’s vision for its waterfront can be formalized. Working in partnership with New York State, a community reaches consensus on the future of its waterfront, establishes local policies and outlines the implementation techniques it will use to achieve its vision. As a strategy, a LWRP provides the organizational structure, local laws, projects and ongoing work to implement the plan. Completing a LWRP can significantly increase a community’s ability to attract appropriate development that will take advantage of, but also respect, the unique cultural and natural characteristics of its waterfront.

An approved LWRP reflects community consensus and a local vision for the future of the waterfront. Once approved by the state, the community is eligible for technical and financial assistance, including state and federal grants (Federal Coastal Zone Management Act Funds). In addition, state permitting, funding and direct actions must be consistent, to the maximum extent practicable, with an approved LWRP. Within the federally defined coastal zone, federal agency activities are also required to be consistent with an approved LWRP. This state and federal “consistency” provision helps insure all levels of government work in unison to locally build a stronger economy and heathier environment.

The most successful efforts in NY include local champions, such as mayors, city planners, or economic development directors, who have used their LWRP to build consensus and engage local, state and federal partners to implement the community’s vision for its waterfront. These local champions have used the LWRP to build long term partnerships among local government, community-based organizations, and government partners.

A key to success has been the establishment of multi-year partnerships and the ability of communities to receive planning funds, and then, in subsequent years, funds to implement specific projects of the plan.

Full Case Study Description


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 coasts – from the largest cities to the smallest hamlets – waterfronts play a vital role in the lives of New Yorkers. Across the state, more and more people are recognizing that their waterfronts can bring new life and energy to their communities.

State Financial and Technical Assistance
New York’s Department of State (DOS) has provided financial and technical assistance to more than 300 local governments, encouraging them to make the most of their waterfront assets through the preparation of a clear vision and plan, broad public involvement, creative partnerships and a step-by-step strategy. The term LWRP refers to both a planning document prepared by a community, as well as the program established to implement the plan. The program may be comprehensive and address all issues that affect a community’s entire waterfront, or it may address the most critical issues facing a significant portion of its waterfront. A LWRP follows a process by which a community can advance community planning from a vision to implementation.

New York’s approach combines financial and technical assistance to build capacity at the local level to address locally-relevant coastal management issues through development of LWRPs. Through development of LWRPs, communities establish a clear vision for the future and develop partnerships to leverage additional public and private funding for planning and implementation. Local development of an LWRP allows the community to focus on locally-important waterfront priorities while assuring consideration of state goals. State permitting, funding, and direct actions must be consistent with an approved LWRP.

NY’s DOS provides financial and technical assistance to help communities make the most out of their waterfront assets, and as a result, strengthen their local economy. It establishes a long term partnership between communities and DOS, which, in turn, builds local capacity. Early in the LWRP development process, most communities establish a coordinating and oversight committee. In some communities, this may be handled by an existing board, such as the planning board or a conservation advisory commission, but more often a separate waterfront advisory committee is established.

Local Implementation

New York City’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program: Investing in Port Infrastructure

New York City’s Waterfront Revitalization Program (LWRP), originally adopted in 1982 and updated in 2002, is the City’s principal coastal zone management tool, establishing policies for the use, development, enhancement and protection of its natural, public, redeveloping and working waterfronts. The City of New York is completing a draft update of the 2002 LWRP that will propose a significant expansion of their policy toolkit that will build on and address evolving issues, including climate change and sea-level rise.

Working waterfronts and waterways have long been a vital component of New York City’s economy. The working waterfront includes passenger transportation and airborne and waterborne cargo operations, including containers, roll-on-roll-off, dry and liquid bulk, and heavy lift operations. Municipal and public utility services include energy generation, storage and distribution facilities, and waste management and recycling services. The waterfront is also home to the marine terminals that are part of the Port of New York and New Jersey, the third largest port in the country and the largest on the East Coast, as well as the many tugboat and barge operators, marinas, and ship-repair outfits that provide maritime support services to the Port.

Over the past half-century, the City’s economy and maritime industry have undergone significant change. The ports, maritime support services and other industries that make up the City’s working waterfront have changed in profound ways, both technologically and economically. Although the waterfront is no longer dominated by waterborne trade, port activities are essential to the movement of goods and materials into the New York Metropolitan Region, the largest consumer market in North America. As a result of advances in shipping technology, primarily the development of containerized shipping, waterborne freight operations have been consolidated and now occupy a smaller number of facilities, even as the total volume of goods shipped into New York has grown considerably.

The City’s maritime businesses are supported by a vast waterfront infrastructure, much of it created at a time when New York was still a manufacturing powerhouse with a sizable export trade. This infrastructure includes the publicly-owned marine terminals, such as the Hunts Point Terminal in the Bronx, New York Container Terminal on Staten Island, the Red Hook Container Terminal and Bush Terminal in Brooklyn, and the cruise terminals in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Many piers, boat tie-ups, and bulkheads throughout the City support industrial uses. Maintenance of many of these facilities is critical to the efficiency and safety of water-dependent businesses on the working waterfront.

To remain competitive with other East Coast ports, the City, the states of New York and New Jersey, and the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey have invested in infrastructure to maintain and improve access to and from the Port. These partners have also committed significant resources in the planning and toward completing execution of harbor deepening and bridge-raising modifications to prepare for the latest generation of ships with 50-foot drafts, which are anticipated with the expansion of the Panama Canal.

In addition, the City has promoted the growth of waterfront industries through policies and incentives. Originally designated and mapped in its 1982 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan and subsequently incorporated into its amended 2002 LWRP, both funded by the Department of State, New York City identified and protected areas of working waterfront uses having locational requirements that make portions of the coastal zone especially valuable as industrial areas. These areas were recognized and designated as Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIAs). The major criteria used to delineate these areas include: concentrations of manufacturing and commercially zoned land; suitable hydrographic conditions for maritime related uses; the presence of or potential for intermodal transportation, marine terminal and pier infrastructure; concentrations of water-dependent and industrial activity; relatively good transportation access and proximity to markets; or availability of publicly-owned land.

LWRP policies to support, protect and evolve water-dependent and industrial uses in the appropriate areas include measures that support these uses. These measures include dredging for navigation and maintenance purposes; adequate manufacturing zoning in SMIAs to permit heavy industrial uses; preservation or improvement of existing shorefront infrastructure, including bulkheads, wharves and piers to permit water-dependent activity and to promote flood control; and, where feasible, giving priority to maritime support and water-dependent uses when siting municipal facilities. Outside of the designated SMIA maritime industrial clusters, policy is in place to protect current and encourage new working waterfront uses at appropriate sites with similar existing criteria as those for SMIAs, as described above.

The Department of State has provided technical assistance to New York City through its Environmental Protection Fund Local Waterfront Revitalization Program (EPF LWRP) grant program with multiple grant awards between 1995-2012, totaling nearly $2.5 million for projects ranging from facilities and infrastructure planning and design of improvements at the Brooklyn Navy Yard SMIA; a barge terminal study that included siting, environmental and engineering analysis; a dredged materials study analyzing strategies for disposal and beneficial reuse; and a comprehensive Maritime Support Services Study.

A Maritime Support Services Location Study in 2007 culminated with important recommendations that added to New York City’s working waterfront toolkit, including the need to preserve, encourage and develop, at strategic locations, additional tie-up space, provision of new dry docks and ship repair facilities, and “maritime hubs” in the harbor that would integrate complementary land and water uses and service facilities and infrastructure. Maritime hubs would provide centralized locations for the removal of refuse and bilges; resupply fuel, water, food and other supplies; provide electric supply hookups to operate without running diesel engines; provide crew change facilities, including a Transportation Workers Identity Credential security station; and restaurants for vessel crews.

Village of Greenport’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program: Promoting Traditional Waterfront Uses

The Village of Greenport (population 2,200), located on Long Island’s North Fork, has enjoyed a long history as a working waterfront community dating back to peak whaling activities in the 1840s, when huge schooners from all over the world sailed from Greenport while the whaling industry prospered in the Northeast. Prosperity continued with the menhaden industry through the beginning of World War II, when Greenport’s shipyards became very active building naval vessels under government contract.

Today, the local labor market does not rely as heavily as it once did on such traditional maritime industries. However, a large part of the local labor market remains oriented to water-dependent occupations such as marinas, boat yards, commercial fishing, and boat building.

Preserving Greenport’s working waterfront heritage continues to be one of the Village’s highest priorities. The six development policies in Greenport’s LWRP establish the Village’s overall approach for protecting and revitalizing the waterfront’s water-dependent uses and the enhancement of those traditional uses and activities that define the Village’s heritage.

Implementation of the Village’s LWRP, through the zoning code, has established various measures for encouraging traditional water-dependent uses. The Village has established a Waterfront Commercial District along much of the historic waterfront – Greenport Harbor and Sterling Basin. In this district uses such as yacht clubs, ship yards, fish processing plants and other marine and aquaculture facilities are permitted and encouraged.

In order for Greenport’s waterfront to remain economically viable, a transition to water dependent tourism has become part of the community’s development strategy. Implementation of projects identified in the Village’s LWRP, including seven projects supported by $1.76 million from the Department’s EPF LWRP grant program, have enabled the Village to transition from a traditional working waterfront to one focused on water-based tourism and as a destination for transient boaters and sailors. The Village continues to host an annual regatta and maintains its role in traditional boating by hosting a Tall Ships weekend.

Town of East Hampton’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program: Supporting Commercial Fishing & Aquaculture

The Town of East Hampton (population 21,500), on the South Fork of Long Island, is on the opposite side of the Peconic Estuary across from the Village of Greenport. Commercial fishing is part of the lifeblood of East Hampton, providing an important food source and a significant component of the local and state economies. It is an essential part of the Town’s cultural history and, along with East Hampton’s world class ocean beaches, is the foundation of its tourism and resort economy.

Lake Montauk, on the Town’s Peconic Bay shoreline, has been described as the largest commercial fishing port in New York State in terms of landed value and numbers of vessels: 2013 figures for the port were 13.1 million pounds valued at $17.7 million. Other economic activities related to the fishing industry serve to multiply this amount by three to four times, for a total annual input to the Town’s economy of approximately $45-$60 million. Commercial dock space is available at two municipal and four private docks. Three commercial fishing packing docks, several retail seafood markets, and a number of docks or marinas occasionally sell fish, as landed. The restoration of American oyster and hard clam fisheries in three of the town’s harbors, supported through an EPF LWRP grant for $132,000, is proving critical to reestablishing commercial shellfishing as a component of the working waterfront. Four other projects supported by $170,000 of EPF LWRP funds are likewise strengthening the shellfishing industry by improving water quality through comprehensive watershed planning for Lake Montauk and stormwater mitigation throughout the town.

Land use issues related to fisheries are primarily addressed in the development policies established in East Hampton’s LWRP and implemented through zoning. The town has attempted to preserve water-dependent uses, such as commercial fishing and marinas, through its zoned Waterfront District. Permitted uses in this district emphasize water-dependent activities with traditional economic bases in commercial fishing and recreational boating (marinas); secondarily water-related businesses, such as fish processing or marine research that support water-dependent uses; or water-enhanced uses such as restaurants, which benefit from access to the water without causing undue impacts.

New uses within the Waterfront District that are not water-related must meet a set of special permit criteria in order to obtain Town approval. These criteria assure that proposals do not adversely affect existing or potential water-dependent uses; are ancillary to a principal water-related use by providing economic support for the water-dependent use; or enable the general public to gain visual or physical access to the waterfront.

Next Steps for LWRPs

In addition to shoreline development, water uses are subject to an ever increasing array of conflicts. These include conflicts between passive and active types of recreation, between commercial and recreational uses, and between human uses and natural resources within the harbor. Increases in recreational boating, changes in waterfront uses, coastal hazards and climate change, dredged material disposal, and multiple regulating authorities all make effective harbor management complex. These conflicts and a lack of clear authority to solve them have resulted in community harbors that are limited in their ability to support a range of appropriate and traditional uses. As a result, NY has strengthened the connection between LWRPs and harbor management plans, and now communities with LWRPS are also developing consistent harbor management plans to address water side issues.

Key Partners

  • NY Department of State
  • NY Communities participating in the LWRP program

Fred Landa
New York Department of State
Division of Coastal Resources
41 State Street
Albany, NY 12231

Additional Information
Making the Most of Your Waterfront Guidebook: Enhancing Waterfronts to Revitalize Communities. March 2004.


Last updated 16-Oct-15


  • Northeast

Geographic Scope

  • Statewide

Governance Structure

  • Home Rule


  • Economic development
  • Environmental impacts: resource protection, habitat loss, water quality degradation
  • Decline in industrial activity and need to redevelop/adapt waterfront for new uses


Waterfront Uses

  • Public access (docks/wharfs/beach/park)
  • Waterborne passenger transportation (ferries, water taxis, cruise ship facilities, etc.)
  • Marine (shipping and storage) terminals
  • Water-dependent industrial, including powerplants
  • Marina/drystack
  • Pier/dock/wharf/lift

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