Coronavirus Puts Halt to Land Use Review Process

Director of DCP Marisa Lago holds review session as the sole Commissioner in physical attendance on March 16, 2020.  Other Commissioners attended the meeting remotely, in an attempt to keep the ULURP process moving before Mayor de Blasio’s Executive Order was signed. Image Credit: NYC CPC

The executive order freezes land use applications so public meetings do not need to occur. On March 16, 2020, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Emergency Executive Order #100, which laid out several steps of the City’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. In the interest of limiting public gatherings to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Emergency Executive Order #100 freezes land use applications that have a timed review or vote requirement. This includes applications within the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) as well as applications before the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Emergency Executive Order also waived the City Charter’s requirement to hold at least two City Council stated meetings per month. As a result, Landmarks, community boards, Borough Presidents, the City Planning Commission and the City Council do not have to meet to take action on active land use applications. 

Prior to the Emergency Executive Order, various City agencies and the City Council were already making changes to their calendars and seeking alternative methods to hold hearings. ULURP,  the City’s standardized process for public review of land use applications, has specific timeline requirements by law. After the Department of City Planning receives and certifies an application, the affected community board has 60 days to hold public hearings and an advisory vote on the application. Subsequently, the Borough President’s office then has 30 days to hold public hearings, review, and issue an advisory vote on the application. 

The advisory recommendations of the community board and Borough President then pass along to the City Planning Commission, which holds a public hearing and has another 60 days to review and vote on the application. Generally, if the City Planning Commission votes to approve the application, the application then is subject to review by the City Council. The City Council has 50 days to review the application at the subcommittee, land use committee and full Council levels. If the City Council does not take any action by the end of its allowed review period, the City Planning Commission’s decision is approved as is, without further input from City Council. 

Due to the Open Meetings Law, public bodies like community boards were required to attend in-person to have a quorum; members couldn’t attend remotely to vote. On March 7, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Order 202.1, which in part authorized public meetings to be held remotely by conference call provided the public could still view or listen to the proceeding.

Even without the restrictions of the Open Meetings Law, community boards struggled to find ways to hold meetings; many community boards meet in public places, and the guidance to restrict the number of people in public outings limited options. 

Public meetings at Borough President’s Offices were postponed or cancelled. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams closed his Borough Hall offices to walk-in visitors, but encouraged constituents to contact the office by phone or email. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer planned to have reduced office hours. 

The City Planning Commission originally planned to continue to hold public meetings remotely. On Monday, March 16, the CPC held a review session remotely, with only Commission Chair Marisa Lago and one staff member present in person. The other Commissioners attended the hearing remotely from home. 

Conversely, the City Council chose to suspend public hearings indefinitely. On March 15, 2020, Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced On Sunday, March 15th, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson announced the suspension over Twitter, and stated that Council central staff at City Hall and 250 Broadway would work from home until further notice. 

Other non-ULURP land-use related offices also planned to make adjustments. The Landmarks Preservation Commission originally planned to reduce public hearings by 50 percent capacity, but later canceled the remaining public hearings for March. The Board of Standards and Appeals requested applicants and members of the public submit testimony electronically. 

However, with the signing of the Emergency Executive Order, these bodies will no longer have to meet because the Order freezes the timeline on these applications. This will allow elected officials to focus on pressing matters like public health.

The Emergency Executive Order also outlines other directives, including the restriction of restaurants and other food establishments for takeout and delivery only; the closure of entertainment venues including movie theaters, concert halls and clubs, as well as the closure of gyms; canceling the Queens Borough President special election set for March 24th; and directing hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers to cancel elective surgeries. To read the full details of Emergency Executive Order #100, click here

What are City agencies doing in the meantime?

Community boards will decide how to hold public meetings, some may seek ways to do so via live feeds, and some district staff may work remotely. Borough President’s offices have canceled events and various changes to office hours and availability. Contact your local community board and Borough President’s Office by phone or email for availability and with any concerns.

The Department of City Planning borough offices are closed, but the office at 120 Broadway will remain open from 9 AM to 5 PM. Many DCP employees will be working remotely. Land use applications will be accepted Mondays and Thursdays. 

City Council public hearings are postponed indefinitely, and many central staff are working remotely. Some district offices are encouraging constituents to call rather than visit the office. Contact your local Council Member by phone for availability and with any concerns.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will accept the electronic filing of all permit applications. Application forms and related materials must be emailed to Landmarks. As most Landmarks staff will be working remotely, priority will be given to emailed applications, as there are less staff in the office to process mailed-in applications. For further instructions on E-filing with Landmarks, click here.

The Board of Standards and Appeals held a public hearing by live teleconference on March 17th. Most calendar items have now been postponed to the next available hearing date. BSA continues to encourage applicants to submit materials electronically. For more information, click here.

While CityLand will also be operating remotely, we are committed to providing daily land use related news coverage and we will continue to report on further Coronavirus updates whenever possible as this situation continues to unfold. Please continue to check CityLand for ongoing land use developments. 

For further guidance and information about the coronavirus, please see the NYC Department of Health and Center for Disease Control websites.


By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)


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