Could Sandy have Stopped the ULURP Clock?

On October 25, 2012, the City Council Land Use Committee voted in favor of both the West Harlem rezoning plan and the Chelsea Market expansion plan with modifications. (See CityLand’s past coverage here). The full City Council was originally expected to vote on these plans on October 30, 2012. However, Hurricane Sandy forced this vote to be delayed two full weeks.

Under the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), when City Council review is triggered, the Council has 50 days to act on an application approved by the City Planning Commission. If the Council does not modify the application, or does not disapprove of the application within that time period, the Council is deemed to have approved the decision of the City Planning Commission. On November 13, 2012, the City Council approved both plans with the modifications. Fortunately, this vote was held just before the 50-day review period was set to expire. What would have happened had Hurricane Sandy prevented the Council from modifying these plans?

It is reasonable to assume that many members of the City Council and local communities would not have been pleased if these plans were approved automatically without the Council’s modifications.  For example, one modification earmarks funds to the Robert Fulton Houses for affordable housing in Chelsea.

ULURP and the Council review process, which are found in Section 197-c and Section 197-d of the NYC Charter, do not explicitly mention how the review clock can be extended. However, the Council can amend the Charter by local law subject to certain limitations without being subject to a voter referendum, as many Charter amendments require. The Council passed such a law for a similar circumstance in 2001. Following the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the City Council passed Local Law No. 58. This law extended the review periods for every phase of the ULURP process for all applications pending prior to September 11, 2001. The City Council extended its own review period for 45 days subsequent to September 11, 2001.

September 11, 2001, was, and hopefully always will be, a unique circumstance. It is still unclear when the Council has the power to extend the ULURP clock without being subject to a voter referendum. According to some city government employees, Hurricane Sandy could have triggered the same action by the Council. However, it is not believed that the Council would simply be able to extend the clock when it missed the deadline on a particular application for less pressing reasons, for example, a lack of consensus. That type of an extension of review time would seem to fall outside the scope of a unilateral amendment to the Charter by the Council.

In the end, Hurricane Sandy did not affect the ULURP process. Instead, the City has been able to focus their attention on the many citizens that were unfortunately affected by the hurricane.

By: Brian Kaszuba (Brian is the CityLand Editor and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2004)


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