Starting this week, public hearings are being held throughout the five boroughs to solicit feedback on the report’s recommendations. In April of 2018, the NYC Council created a Charter Revision Commission. The 15-member commission, which was granted a wide mandate to review the City Charter from top to bottom, is considering possible amendments to be placed on the November 5, 2019 ballot in New York City. The Commission’s focus has been on four areas of City government: elections, governance, finance, and land use. The Commission is Chaired by Gail Benjamin, who served for 25 years as Director of the New York City Council’s Land Use Division. Also among the commissioners is Carl Weisbrod, former Director of the Department of City Planning.
On April 22, 2019, the Charter Revision Commission released its Preliminary Staff Report following weeks of expert testimony on the various areas being examined by the Commission. In the land use arena, the Charter Revision Commission’s focus has been narrowed down to community board and borough president involvement in the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). The Charter Revision Staff report makes the following three recommendations.
The first recommendation is that community boards be given more time and an earlier opportunity to comment on applications subject to the ULURP process. This recommendation is largely based upon community boards’ and borough presidents’ input that they are not being sufficiently engaged during the pre-ULURP process – the time during which applicants are meeting with the Department of City Planning, before applications are certified to ULURP by DCP. Under this recommendation, applicants would be required to submit a Project Information Form to the affected community board and borough president with information on the substance of the proposed project. The community boards and the borough president would then have a fixed pre-certification comment period, for example of 30 days, to review applications and provide their feedback.
The second recommendation is an increase in the amount of time that community boards have under ULURP to review applications during July and August. Currently, Community Boards have 60 days to notify the public of the application in accordance with City Planning Commission rules, hold a public hearing on the application, and submit written comments. Some community boards have informed the Commission that they have difficulty holding the public hearings in July and August. Under the staff report’s recommendation, community boards would be given extra time, for example 75 days, in July and August to review applications.
The third and final recommendation relating to land use is amending the charter so that the various city-planning documents that are currently being produced by City agencies, such as the Borough Strategic Policy Statements, City Strategic Policy Statements, Ten-Year Capital Strategy, Community Development Plans and the like are consolidated. While New York City does not have a “comprehensive plan”, or a single document that articulates long-term development goals related to transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, housing and other types of services, the numerous plans and initiatives address these issues separately. The recommendation is to make clear how these various planning documents should relate to and impact one and another.
Leading up to the release of these recommendations, real estate professionals and city experts have been expressing concern over the possibility of major changes to ULURP, which was created in 1989, the last time that the City Charter underwent such an expansive revision process.
Last month, New York Law School through its Center for Real Estate Studies and the Center for New York City Law, hosted a distinguished panel of real estate and City professionals, including Carl Weisbrod, David Greenfield, Basha Gerhards, Catherine Hughes, and Miriam Harris, to share their views on what charter changes were worrisome and what changes could be helpful. The panel was organized and moderated by real estate and land use expert Ross Moskowitz.
What became clear at this discussion was that while the real estate community can appreciate community boards’ frustrations with ULURP – such as for not being officially included the pre-ULURP process, or not being given enough time to review applications once they are sent to the community boards – timing is not the only issue. Many projects currently receive a lot of community input, much before they are even certified by the DCP. Part of the problem is that the less seasoned applicants do not choose to reach out to communities early in the process to receive their input. Another part of the problem is that not all community boards are created equal. Lack of training, experienced staff, and funding are all issues that the panelists agreed could be improved upon before changing ULURP itself.
Starting this week, the Commission will hold borough hearings to solicit feedback on the staff report, before narrowing down its ballot recommendations. Community Boards can now weigh in on these recommendations at the hearings, which are open to the public, and are scheduled as follows:
Comments can also be submitted via the Charter Revision website.
Following these hearings, the Commission will vote on a resolution based on the feedback received and the Charter Revision Commission staff will prepare final proposals and ballot questions. Once the Commission adopts the final proposals, they will be submitted to the City Clerk and a public education campaign will be launched on the proposals from August through October. The final proposals will be voted on by the public on November 5, 2019.
By: Viktoriya Gray (Viktoriya is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2018).