Environmental, Land Use and Zoning

Environmental laws continue to grow more complex and more demanding. Noncompliance may result in devastating civil and criminal liabilities. Our lawyers work proactively, wherever possible, and reactively, whenever needed, to counsel businesses through all stages of environmental management. HSE brings decades of real-world experience to every environmental issue. The services provided by our team of well-qualified legal professionals include helping clients intelligently invest in or manage environmental issues associated with acquisitions and development, guidance through the labyrinth of regulatory approvals, and representation in litigation matters involving environmental claims.

From a land-use and zoning perspective; blueprints and site plans are not worth the paper they’re printed on unless the necessary project approvals are in place. Putting plans into action is our primary objective. We have extensive experience in helping private developers obtain the governmental approvals required to develop real property for residential, commercial, and retail uses. We also represent local and municipal governments in land use, zoning, environmental, and redevelopment issues from both the regulatory and the planning perspectives.

We understand the importance of addressing issues on a timely and cost-effective basis while keeping a focused eye on obtaining our clients’ goals. Our practice's vast, real-world experience has resulted in HSE becoming one of the region’s preeminent law firms in environmental law, land-use and zoning matters. The bottom line: We get the job done.

Complex and extensive regulations now apply to organizations previously unaffected by environmental laws. Practice attorneys routinely answer questions on air and water pollution, solid and hazardous waste disposal, hazardous material management, emergency planning and community right-to-know issues, groundwater protection, petroleum and chemical bulk, storage tanks, asbestos removal, PCB cleanup, and critical environmental areas (freshwater wetlands, coastal zones, and flood plains). We have key substantive, real-world experience and knowledge in many critical areas routinely encountered by businesses, including:

Brownfields Site Development
Our attorneys have assisted clients in restoring and recycling more than 100 brownfield sites to productive and profitable use, including the recent completion of a $15 million remediation associated with the $100 million HealthNow office building in downtown Buffalo. Our practice attorneys have extensive experience in buying, selling, financing, and developing contaminated properties. We have a comprehensive understanding of federal and state agency requirements, consent orders, enforcement criteria, and the technical, cleanup, and regulatory requirements involved with remediating sites. On an almost daily basis, we are negotiating remedial investigation and feasibility studies, cleanup levels, consent orders, and compliance issues with both state and federal agencies.

Hazardous Waste Site Remediation
Practice attorneys have managed and overseen more than 150 hazardous waste site cleanups throughout New York in cooperation with the NYSDEC.

Petroleum Spill and Tank Remediation
Our attorneys have unparalleled experience in petroleum spill and tank remediation (and cost recovery actions associated with those cleanups), having successfully managed more than 250 petroleum spill and tank cleanups.

In addition to assisting in the management of the environmental impact review process, we have also successfully defended economic development and land use approvals in state and federal courts. Our firm also regularly represents parties in environmental litigation associated with property management and development, including cost recovery litigation under CERCLA and the New York State Navigation Law and, if necessary, enforcement and compliance matters.

  • Remediation Cost Recovery Litigation. Practice attorneys have worked closely and successfully with our clients to identify, target, and connect responsible parties to site contamination and then to recover those environmental investigation and remediation costs from the responsible parties both for hazardous waste (CERCLA) and petroleum spills (Navigation Law) found on site.
  • Representation in Other Environmental Litigation Matters, Including Superfund and Cleanup Disputes. We represent clients in disputes with government agencies and with private parties concerning liabilities arising out of contaminated properties. We also represent industrial, commercial, and municipal clients in negotiations with federal and state agencies concerning the terms of Consent Orders for environmental cleanup or landfill closures.
  • Representation during Enforcement Proceedings - Administrative, Civil, and Criminal. Enforcement activities have increased in recent years, but timely advice can often limit or avoid penalties. Practice attorneys represent clients at every stage – from administrative hearings to civil or criminal proceedings.

Preparation for Congressional, State, or Local Legislative Testimony
Individuals, businesses, and associations often have an interest in proposed environmental legislation or regulations. Our attorneys are experienced in helping clients achieve legislative goals.

Environmental Issues in Transactions
Our attorneys have completed the required due diligence and have managed and addressed environmental issues in all types of transactions on all sides of a deal, whether acquisitions or sales (leveraging environmental issues in contract and price negotiations), real property transactions, mergers, or lending transactions. We have assisted in closing many large and small deals involving potential environmental deal-stoppers. We have handled thousands of real property parcel sales and many corporate acquisitions or sales, some in excess of $50 million. We have also handled such unique transactions as property trades, package property sales, landfill developments, and other complex real estate transactions. We focus on getting the deal done, leveraging environmental issues, and protecting both the company and its individual shareholders from contingent risk of liability.

Our firm has extensive experience in working with state and federal authorities to obtain wetlands approvals. We have worked with clients on projects that had impact studies on jurisdictional wetlands as small as one acre and as large as more than 100 acres. We have extensive technical, regulatory, and litigation experience on wetlands issues.

Wetlands Permitting
Our team is at the cutting edge of managing wetland issues during site development and state (NYSDEC) and federal (ACOE and USEPA) permitting for large and small-scale projects, applying the most advantageous wetlands policies and cases to achieve our clients’ goals.

Tracking and Forecasting Changes in Environmental Law
We routinely track proposed regulations and pursue an ongoing dialogue with environmental authorities.

Environmental Reviews
Environmental review is now an integral part of the process for obtaining project approvals, rezoning, and permits. Practice attorneys counsel clients in the preparation and filing of applications for project approvals and permits, assist in the preparation of environmental impact statements, and represent clients at hearings before municipal boards and administrative agencies. We have substantial experience in the permitting of large controversial projects including commercial properties, industrial mining sites and the like.

We are technically adept at addressing all types of issues, including those related to traffic, wetlands, drainage, and waterfront development, as well as those related to cultural resources and site contamination.

Our attorneys assist developers seeking rezoning, variances, special use permits, subdivision approvals, site plans, and other land use approvals for development projects. We frequently represent clients in matters involving administrative or judicial review of zoning decisions. We are also experienced in representing and advising condemners and condemnees in all aspects of eminent domain proceedings.

Managing Community Involvement/Controversial Projects
We have extensive experience in coordinating community participation programs for various remedial sites, and have partnered with regulatory agencies, environmental groups, and neighborhood and community groups. We have developed fact sheets, press releases, decision documents, and public communication releases related to those projects. We have also worked with public relations, public survey, and other outside consultants to handle particularly sensitive projects.

Our Clients

  • Commercial, Industrial, Residential, and Retail Developers
  • Corporations (ranging from Fortune 100 to closely held companies)
  • Demolition Companies
  • Industrial, Retail/Commercial and Residential Developers
  • Municipalities
  • Public Entities (municipalities, school districts)
  • Private Companies
  • Quarry and Mining Companies
  • Financial Institutions
  • Venture Capital or Specialized Investment Entities
  • Individuals

Key Contacts


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New IRS Rules Mean New Opportunities for Development

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View All Resources


This website presents only general information not intended as legal advice. Although we encourage calls, letters and emails from prospective clients, please keep in mind that merely contacting Harter Secrest & Emery LLP (HSE) does not establish an attorney-client relationship between us. Confidential information should not be sent to HSE until you have been notified in writing by HSE that a formal attorney-client relationship has been established. Information sent to us before then may not be treated as confidential by HSE or the court.

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