path for a sustainable future

Environmental Reserves

The Environmental Reserves Character Area represents an evolution of the original land classification concept outlined in the Onondaga County Settlement Plan and includes those areas that are considered to be of extreme significance to the County’s environmental health and natural beauty.

Environmental Reserves include non-NYSDEC wetlands, areas of steep slopes, floodplains, riparian areas, Transfer of Development Rights sending areas and the Otisco and Skaneateles Lake watersheds.


The Environmental Reserve Character Area includes a wide variety of generally undeveloped lands, including wetlands, stream and and creek corridors, unique upland habitats and other important scenic and natural areas that could be threatened by development. Many of these areas were selected based on the special environmental features unique to each, while others were selected due to the presence of features where development may threaten its long-term viability (e.g., steep slopes). It is also important to note that the Otisco Lake and Skaneateles Lake watersheds were included as these lakes are sources of drinking water for many County residents.


Development near these areas should be minimized or avoided due to special environmental function or sensitivity. This may include improved water quality, flood protection and ecological habitat afforded by wetlands, or the influence of upland land use practices on the drinking water quality of Skaneateles and Otisco Lakes. While not specifically preserved, these areas may warrant protection and should be evaluated for conservation. At a minimum, however, they merit an extra level of regulatory protection and scrutiny prior to development. While the County can provide a basic outline for reserving and preserving lands, the greatest opportunity to accomplish this lies with the individual municipalities.

Sample Strategies

  • Develop an open space plan to identify and prioritize Environmental Reserve lands by type and location. Priority should be given to those lands that improve system connectivity for recreation, stormwater management and habitat corridors.
  • Create a guidance document for use at the municipal level to assist in the identification and protection of Environmental Reserve areas.
  • Identify funding sources, techniques and tools to assist in the transfer of Environmental Reserve lands into Preserve areas.
  • Buffer waterways and wetlands using zoning and other regulatory tools.