City Council no Longer a Rubber Stamp on Zoning Proposals

Panel of City Officials and industry leaders discussed NYC zoning and recent developments like Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability. On November 30, 2016, the Center for Real Estate Studies hosted a the breakfast forum, “Celebrating 100 Years of NYC Zoning: Setting the Future Agenda for Developers and Policy Makers.” Ross Moskowitz, a Partner at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, moderated a panel consisting of Commissioner Vicki Been, from the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, City Council Member David G. Greenfield, Chair of the Committee on Land Use, Andrew Kimball, CEO of Industry City, and Ron Moelis, CEO of L+M Development Partners.

The panel discussed the efficacy of the 100-year-old Zoning Resolution and where to go from here. Kimball was critical of the inflexibility of the zoning scheme. Highlighting Industry City, where the new Brooklyn Nets training facility is located, Kimball noted the absurdity of the zoning laws and how it interferes with real estate optimization. “At the base of the building, we can’t do a Dick’s Sporting Goods store. Why? Because under the 1960s zoning, you can do hard goods. You can do baseball bats. But you can’t do soft goods—baseball mitts. Doesn’t make a lot of sense.” Kimball argued that more flexibility is needed.

Greenfield, on the other hand, noted that the inflexibility, i.e. predictability, of the zoning law is important in creating cohesive communities. He cautioned against rapid zoning overhauls, saying that rash actions can have repercussions down the road.

“The good old days of the City Council rubber stamping projects are over, and I know developers don’t like to hear that but that’s just the reality,” said Greenfield. As Chair of the Land Use Committee, Greenfield believes that the ULURP process is a valuable opportunity to discuss community interests that often are ignored. Greenfield pointed to the recently approved Lambert Houses project as an example of the system working. He noted that with an active community and City Council participation the project will now offer deeper affordability and the addition of two new schools in the area—adding at least 500 new school seats to the school district.

Moelis stated that community participation was an important factor, citing the success of L+M Development Partners’ recently approved Lexington Gardens project which will be 100 percent affordable housing. He called for sensitivity on the part of developers that not everything can and should be rezoned. Moelis also backed Mandatory Inclusionary Housing and Zoning for Quality and Affordability, saying that mixed-income housing was important. He pointed out that middle income earners could support the community and local businesses.

Commissioner Been argued that Zoning for Quality and Affordability has had a dramatic positive effect on affordable housing in the City. Pushing back slightly against a common critique of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Been said, “If I only build for existing levels of poverty in the neighborhood, I’m concentrating poverty further, and that’s against the Fair Housing Act. It’s the law.”

By: Jonathon Sizemore (Jonathon is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2016).

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.