City Comptroller Audit Criticizes Public Design Commission

Public Design Commission rejected Comptroller’s recommendation for more efficient design review process.  The New York City Public Design Commission (formerly known as the Art Commission) reviews permanent works of art, architecture, and landscape architecture proposed on or over City-owned property. The Commission is composed of 11 unpaid members, eight of whom are appointed by the mayor, and includes an architect, landscape architect, painter, and sculptor, as well as representatives of the Brooklyn Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library.

The City agency with jurisdiction over the property on which a proposed project is located must submit its design to the Commission. Prior to submitting a proposal to the Commission, applicants must ensure compliance with the regulations of other City agencies, such as the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Examples of projects requiring Commission review include renovations of museums, libraries, parks, and playgrounds; and the installation of lighting and streetscape elements, such as bus shelters, bus bulbs, and the Department of Transportation’s recent proposal to install LED fixtures throughout the City.

City Comptroller John C. Liu audited the Public Design Commission’s controls over its design review process. The audit report found that the Commission held all required public hearings and posted agendas on its Website. However, the report concluded that the Commission failed to establish a formal process relating to its overall review of project designs. The Comptroller noted that the Commission lacked internal controls, such as time benchmarks or target time frames, for a more efficient design review process. For example, with respect to the time frame between determining a project’s completeness and the final decision on such a project, the Commission took up to 30 days for 64 percent of projects, but took 60 or more days for 26 percent of projects. Additionally, the Comptroller found that the Commission did not take into consideration the costs involved with certain Commission-recommended design modifications. For example, in cases where the Commission requested design changes, the cost of modification was mentioned in only 14 percent of project files.

The Comptroller’s report concluded that the Commission needed to improve its internal controls over the design review process to ensure that the process is completed in an efficient manner, and set forth five recommendations. The report recommended that the Commission develop and use formalized written procedures for the overall design review process, develop efficiency and timeliness measures such as time benchmarks for the review process, and document discussions with submitting agencies regarding cost changes on projects as a result of design modifications requested by the Commission.

The Commission, in a detailed response, disagreed with the audit’s recommendations. The Commission stated that it “will maintain its current procedures with respect to the design review process, which include clear Submission Guidelines, and enhance such procedures as conditions dictate.” The Commission argued that it was not a project manager or budget monitor for other City agencies and that the Comptroller’s audit reflected a “persistent lack of understanding” of the Commission and its mission.

Audit Report on the Design Commission’s Controls over the Design Review Process, MD11-089A, NYC Comptroller John C. Liu (May 4, 2012).


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