becca-tapert-tam80nXFvL4-unsplash (1)


Under New York State Law, certain local planning and zoning matters must be referred to the County Planning Board for review before the local government takes any final action. This referral (commonly called the “239 Review”) is required by Section 239-I and Section 239-M of New York General Municipal Law and is designed to assure that county-wide concerns are taken into consideration in the local planning process. Comments by County planners help shape the future of our county and guide the actions of individual municipalities.

The Chautauqua County Department of Planning & Development has created a Planning & Zoning Referral Guide which outlines the State requirements, matters to be referred, exemptions, the effect of review, and the procedure that should be followed.

Planning and Zoning Boards are encouraged to utilize the Chautauqua County Design Principles Guidebook when conducting site plan approval and reviewing special use permits, use and area variances – available below:

Visualizing Our Options - Creating a Better Future: Chautauqua County Design Principles Guidebook


What local government actions are subject to 239 review?

Local government actions subject to 239 review include:

  • Adoption or Amendment of a Comprehensive Plan
  • Adoption or Amendment of a Local Law
  • Adoption or Amendment of a Zoning Ordinance
  • Issuance of Special-Use Permits
  • Approval of Site Plans
  • Granting of Use or Area Variances

Are all local government actions listed subject to 239 review?

No. Local government actions must be referred to the county only if they affect real property within 500 ft. of any of the following:

  • Municipal Boundaries
  • Right of Way of any existing or proposed County or State road
  • Boundary of a farm operation within a State-Certified Agricultural District
  • County or State Parks/Recreation Areas
  • Existing or proposed boundary of any County- or State-Owned land on which a public building or institution is located

Are there exceptions from the referral process?

There is a referral exemption agreement between Chautauqua County Planning Board and Municipalities for the following items:

  • Residential Area Variances:
    • Rear & Side Building Setbacks
    • Fences
    • Decks
    • Minimum Building Size
    • Minimum Building Lot Size
    • Size and Height of Garages
    • Number of Storage Sheds
    • Subdivision of Lots
  • Special Use Permits – Renewals

This does not mean that municipalities cannot request a review for these items, but rather they are not legally required to.

What paperwork needs to be included with a referral submittal?

Required referral materials vary depending on the type of local government action being referred, but the following list includes all potential materials:

  • Fully completed Municipal Referral Form (Always Required)
  • SEQR Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) Part 1 (required unless municipal action is determined to be Type II)
  • Municipal Application for Proposal (if applicable)
  • Complete text of proposed Zoning Ordinance Amendment (if applicable)
  • Agricultural Data Statement (required if proposed action is within 500 ft. of farm operation in a state-certified agricultural district)
  • Site Plan (required as part of municipal application)

How should local governments submit a referral?

Referrals can be mailed, hand delivered or emailed to the Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Development. All options are acceptable, although the County appreciates receiving a digital copy if a hard copy is submitted.  Email referrals to

What happens after a local government submits a referral?

Department staff will review referral materials to ensure they are complete. They will then determine whether the local government action requires review by the County Planning Board. If so, the referral will be placed on the agenda for the next County Planning Board meeting (so long as the referral was received at least 12 days prior to the Board’s monthly meeting). If not, County staff will complete the review administratively and send a response letter to the referring official.

How long does it take to for the County to complete its review?

The County is required by law to complete its review and provide a response letter within 30 days of receipt of a complete referral. If the County fails to act on a referral within this 30 day period, the law permits the local government to take final action without regard to the County’s review.

If a municipality requests that a referral review be completed before this 30 day deadline, the County will do its best to accommodate the request.

What happens if a local government does not follow 239 requirements?

The failure of the local government to follow the procedural requirements of 239 reviews may invalidate any final municipal action, leaving it open to legal challenge. Therefore, it is very important that everyone involved in local planning and zoning ( including the governing body, planning and zoning boards, municipal attorneys and enforcement officers) be aware of the State law requirements.

What force does the County’s review have on local government decisions?

County referral reviews are advisory in nature. Many referrals to Chautauqua County are found to be a “local concern,” where County Planning Board staff have determined that the proposed action will not have an inter-municipal or county-wide impact.

In this case, County staff may offer informal comments for the local government’s consideration, but the local government is under no obligation to follow these comments.

If, on the other hand, County Planning Board staff determine that a proposed action may have an inter-municipal or county-wide impact, the Board will vote to approve or disapprove the action. A vote for approval means the referring board’s final decision is subject to a simple majority vote. A vote for disapproval, or approval with conditions, means that the local government may only override the County’s opinions by a majority plus one vote.

Who can submit a referral on a local government’s behalf?

Only municipal officials are permitted to submit referrals. Specifically, the chair of the board making the decision to be referred must submit the referral form, although assistance in completing the form from other local officials or staff is acceptable. Project applicants may not submit a referral.

What are the most common problems the County finds in referral submittals?

The most common problem is incomplete applications. See “What paperwork needs to be included with the referral submittal?” above.

What if I have questions about 239 reviews?

County staff are always available to answer questions. Contact Us