City Planning Commission Approves Modified Affordable Housing Proposals

City Planning Commissioners preparing to begin the February 3rd meeting. Image credit: CityLand

City Planning Commissioners preparing to begin the February 3rd meeting. Image credit: CityLand

Despite expressing broad support for proposals, City Planning calls on City Council to make further modifications.  On February 3, 2016, the City Planning Commission voted to approve the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals, which are two of the major programs to be implemented under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Housing New York plan.  This was the first opportunity for City Planning to present its modified versions of the MIH and ZQA proposals since receiving highly critical testimony at its 13 hour hearing held on December 16, 2015.

At the February 3rd meeting, City Planning voted to amend the MIH program’s provisions concerning special permits reviewed and issued by the Board of Standards and Appeals. The special permits would provide developers experiencing economic hardship as a direct result of the MIH requirement with the option to apply for a special permit of exemption from the MIH requirements. The amendments seek to enhance the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development’s role in the Board’s hardship application review, which will ensure that special permits are issued “in rare cases of genuine hardship caused specifically by the MIH requirements,” said City Planning Commission Chairman Carl Weisbrod.

Additionally, while the original MIH plan called for HPD to draft its own governing rules for the payment-in-lieu fund collection and reservation provisions of the MIH plan, City Planning believes these rules should be codified and has asked the City Council to make these changes as part of any Council modifications to the plan.

City Planning made more modifications to the ZQA proposal than the MIH proposal. The modified proposal would require special permits for the construction of nursing homes in R-1 and R-2 residential districts comprised primarily of suburban single-family homes, such as the Todt Hill and Westerleigh neighborhoods of Staten Island, the Jamaica Estates, Floral Park, and Forest Hills neighborhoods of Queens, and the Fieldston and Riverdale neighborhoods of the Bronx.  Additionally, City Planning lowered the height increases that had been proposed as part of the initial plan for several of the traditionally wide and narrow streets typical of R9A-, R9X-, and R10A-zoned Manhattan neighborhoods, such as Chelsea and TriBeCa.

Chairman Weisbrod opened the February 3rd meeting with the following statement:

The Commission held a public hearing on December 16th of last year that brought people out in large numbers, and we listened to each and every person who was there to speak for 13 straight hours…We heard thoughtful analysis from community members, elected officials, people who build non-profit affordable housing and affordable housing for seniors, and academics. We also read extensive written submissions, letters and recommendations, and discussed the proposals at great length. We have weighed the issues and acknowledged the tradeoffs. We have made adjustments to the proposals so that we believe that they will address our acute affordable housing needs, while enhancing the quality of life in neighborhoods throughout the city.

“I think the underlying question in zoning text changes is whether or not they enhance the City’s economy and further the city’s livability. I believe that both of these amendments do that,” said Vice Chair Knuckles.

City Planning approved both the modified MIH and ZQA proposals by a vote of 9-3-1. Commissioners Rayann Besser, Irwin Cantor, and Orlando Marín, each appointed to the Commission by the Staten Island, Queens, and Bronx Borough Presidents respectively voted against the proposals. Commissioner Michelle de la Uz, an appointee of then-Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, abstained from the vote.

“Mandatory Inclusionary Housing needs to promote affordability at greater depths to ensure permanently affordable housing will remain affordable in perpetuity and to promote economically diverse neighborhoods,” said Commissioner de la Uz in explaining her abstention.

“There are still some items which are of concern to the community and to the Borough President. Until they are resolved, perhaps with the help of the City Council, I will vote no,” said Commissioner Cantor. Other Commission members, both for and against the proposals, echoed Commissioner Cantor’s sentiments of hope that the City Council will make further changes to the proposals before approving them.

“The Mayor’s rezoning proposal is widely rejected by community groups across the city, and rightly so. It is a clumsy, one-size-fits-all plan which ignores the painstaking efforts of residents and homeowners who have worked for years to preserve the character of their neighborhoods. Zoning for Quality and Affordability will unfortunately achieve neither. The twin goals are very laudable but this massive citywide rezoning as it currently stands is only a path to a taller city, not a more equitable one,” said Historic Districts Council Executive Director Simeon Bankoff.

Next week, the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will hold a public hearing on the MIH proposal on February 9th, which will be followed by its public hearing on the ZQA proposal on February 10th.

“Now that the Department of City Planning has approved the Mayor’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing plan and the new City-wide rezoning, we in the Council will review and improve them,” said Council member David Greenfield.

“Now that the City Planning Commission has approved the de Blasio administration’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability proposals, we look forward to moving on to the next phase of the process by giving these plans a thorough review during next week’s two Council hearings,” said Subcommittee Chair Donovan Richards, Jr.

The City Council will ultimately approve, deny, or modify the MIH and ZQA proposals. The Council’s modifications must be “within scope,” which is a legal standard that restricts the Council from making changes to the proposals that are unrelated to the subject of the proposals or that change the proposed projects’ boundaries beyond what was reviewed in the proposals’ Environmental Impact Statement. The City Planning Commission has 15 days to review Council modifications to determine whether the Council modifications require the initiation of a new application. In a public statement, Council Member Greenfield does believe the Council will be able to make significant changes on its own.

CPC: Zoning for Quality and Affordability (160049-ZRY); Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (160051-ZRY) (Feb. 3, 2016).

By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2015)

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