Community Benefit Agreements report released

Task force proposed a framework for negotiating future Community Benefit Agreements related to publicly assisted development projects. A Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) is a private agreement negotiated between developers and community groups in order to garner support for real estate development projects. In exchange for community support, a developer may agree to provide amenities, such as infrastructure improvements or wage guarantees which are not required by the City’s land use review process. Since 2005, CBAs have been negotiated in connection with several large projects in the City, including the Atlantic Yards project, the new Yankee Stadium, and Columbia University’s campus expansion in Manhattanville

While the City Council cannot be a party to a CBA, the lack of an agreement deemed suitable by the local community contributed to the Council’s decision to deny the Bronx’s Kingsbridge Armory redevelopment project. 6 CityLand 167 (Dec. 2009). There currently is no formalized framework for developing CBAs, and a recent report from the City Bar Association expressed concerns about the transparency and enforceability of these agreements. The report recommended that the City either refuse to consider CBAs during the land use review process or only consider CBAs that conform to uniform standards.

Citing the need for more oversight into the creation of CBAs, City Comptroller John C. Liu convened a task force to propose a comprehensive framework for CBAs connected with City-assisted projects that would increase transparency and encourage broad participation. The task force presented its recommendations to Liu on September 29, 2010.

The task force characterized CBAs as the “unfortunate byproduct” of the City’s failure to adequately consider the community’s needs. According to the task force, CBAs are needed because the Department of City Planning “seldom examines” Citywide needs comprehensively when reviewing projects and leaves it to the Council to address them on a “piecemeal basis.”

The task force recommendations would apply to “major projects.” This would include any project requesting at least 500,000 sq.ft. of additional floor area as permitted as-of-right, relying on more than $75 million in publicly subsidized financing, or covering more than 27 acres of land. Immediately after a developer submitted a project’s environmental assessment statement to the City, the local council member and borough president would schedule a series of public forums. The elected officials and the local community board would then create a negotiation team, and an independent consultant would be assigned to assist the team during negotiations with the developer. So that the CBA’s terms could be evaluated during the City’s land use review process, the negotiations would need to be finalized prior to Planning certifying the developer’s application as complete.

The task force recommended that the Comptroller oversee and monitor the implementation of all CBAs, noting that the negotiated terms would have an indirect financial impact on the City. The report also recommended that the Comptroller propose legislation to the Council codifying the task force’s recommendations.

Recommendations of the Task Force on Public Benefit Agreements (Sept. 29, 2010). Available at: http://www. pba/pdf/Task-Force-Report-Final.pdf

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