Land Use Committee Hears Testimony on Proposed Capital Commitment Tracking System

City Council Land Use Committee hearing held on June 7, 2016. Image credit: CityLand

City Council Land Use Committee hearing held on June 7, 2016. Image credit: CityLand

The proposed system would keep track of the financial and infrastructure-related promises made by the Mayor’s office to neighborhoods being rezoned.  On June 7, 2016, the City Council Committee on Land Use held a public hearing on a legislative proposal to implement a tracking system, which would monitor the status of promises made to the public by the Administration  during the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process. The proposed bill, Intro 1132, is sponsored by New York City Public Advocate Letitia James and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

The Mayor’s Office regularly promises capital commitments to the public during ULURP, which is the public review process used to amend the City’s zoning regulations. These commitments are one of the primary instruments wielded by the City in negotiating zoning changes, yet they are not formally accounted for in the formal documentation of the zoning amendments. Rather, these commitments are often memorialized in a letter written between the Administration and the City Council, which cannot easily be tracked and does nothing to assist the public in ensuring the Administration fulfills its commitments.

The capital commitments that are typically promised by the Mayor’s Office include new parks and schools, local hiring programs, and other infrastructure investments. These investments can play a particularly important role in communities most vulnerable to displacement. The East New York Rezoning Plan, for example, includes the City’s promise to invest $267 million in capital improvements, such as by improving public safety conditions on Atlantic Avenue, revitalizing parks, and provide local residents with a Workforce1 Center. To read more about the East New York Rezoning Plan, click here.

At the Land Use Committee hearing, Council Member Rafael Espinal, one of Intro 1132’s prime sponsors, explained how Intro 1132 seeks to improve the existing ULURP process by adding a layer of transparency, which will keep track of all capital commitments made by the Mayor’s Office and will keep citizens informed. “As the Council Member representing an area that recently underwent one of the largest rezonings in history, I want my constituents to be able to know and track all of the capital commitments that are made by the City as part of the East New York Rezoning,” said Council Member Espinal.

Council Member Donovan Richards recalled that the need for a tracking system had been discussed with the Mayor’s Office while negotiating the terms of the Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program,  because previous mayoral administrations had not fulfilled some of their promises. “We’re turning a new leaf today by offering a lot more transparency and accessibility not only for members, but in particular, for the public,” said Chair Richards.

Council Member Brad Lander enthusiastically supported the legislation. He expressed his admiration for the East New York Rezoning Plan’s process because of the documents at the end of the process itself, which articulated all of the commitments made by the Mayor’s Office. According to Council Member Lander, these are planning documents, and they “formalize what has sort-of been napkin notes from the Deputy Mayor to the Council Member.”

Jon Kaufman, Chief Operating Officer of the Department of City Planning, testified in support of the creation of an online tracking system for the capital commitments. Kaufman stated that the Mayor’s office is taking a different approach to ensure it keeps its promises by establishing a $1 billion capital fund to “help ensure that infrastructure keeps pace with increases in housing and population as neighborhoods go through zoning changes.”

Council Member Lander noted that while zoning text provisions have a place in the zoning text where they can be found and commented on by the public, “affordable housing subsidies, school seats, park commitments, programming, and local hiring” do not have such a place to live in the zoning text. “What is the legal status of those things as they move through the planning and ULURP process?”

Kaufman responded by describing the difficulty in orchestrating the many moving parts involved in creating a formal location for the the mayoral agencies’ promises, because the process requires DCP to oversee the integration of  the agencies’ actions without effectively parenting the agencies.

City Council: LU 1132-2016 (June 7, 2016).

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