Ross Moskowitz Talks About His Career and Current Land Use Issues

Ross Moskowitz

Ross Moskowitz’s legal career, focused on land use and real estate development, has provided him with the chance to work on both sides of the public/private partnerships used to promote the City’s economic development. This experience has served him well in leading the Real Estate Group at Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP.

When asked how he became interested in land use and development, Moskowitz explained that after graduating from New York Law School he worked for a solo practitioner specializing in land use law who “taught him the ropes.” The experience was invaluable, but it was a “one person shop,” and Moskowitz soon found himself looking for more. In 1987, he decided to branch out and accepted a position at Stroock. Over the next few years, Moskowitz honed his land use skills helping developers and institutional investors navigate through the City’s land use process. In 1992, Moskowitz was introduced to the world of public/private real estate transactions while assisting the United States Tennis Association build its National Tennis Center in Queens.

Rethinking the role of the attorney. By 1994 the City’s real estate market had slowed down, prompting Moskowitz to move to the New York City Economic Development Corporation, where he was later named Executive Vice President and Executive Director of the Industrial Development Agency. Facing tough economic times, the City called on EDC to create more employment opportunities for New Yorkers. Moskowitz became a “deal junkie,” immersing himself in public/private partnerships. He participated in a variety of deals, including the revitalization of 42nd Street and the development of the Brooklyn Renaissance Plaza. In response to the dot-com boom of the mid-90s, Moskowitz helped develop the Plug ‘n’ Go program, an initiative devised to attract web-based companies to the City.

Moskowitz left the public sector in 1998 and returned to private practice at Stroock, but he emphasized that his experiences at EDC made him a better attorney. In addition to the experience he gained from working on the sophisticated transactions required in public/private partnerships, Moskowitz also learned a great deal about the business world. Through his interactions with the diverse group of businesses that participated in economic partnerships with the City, Moskowitz gained insight into the particular needs of different industries, in addition to recognizing the value in successfully predicting industry trends in the City. Moskowitz said that learning “to think like a business” prepared him to better assist clients who now seek his advice during their project’s strategic planning stage.

Chipping away at as-of-right development? Recently, the New York City Department of Buildings created a new development challenge process to increase public awareness of new development projects. The new regulations mandate that challenges to proposed projects must be filed within 30 days of approval. After the 30-day period ends, the Borough Commissioner will review the challenges and post determinations online. When asked what effect the new regulations may have on future development, Moskowitz stated that the rules appear to have an “open-endedness” that may be burdensome to developers. Moskowitz pointed out that the new procedure does not define the period of time that the Borough Commissioner has to issue determinations on challenges filed during the 30-day period. Moskowitz noted that Buildings already has numerous responsibilities; he fears that adding an undefined time frame to Buildings’ approval process will lead to time delays similar to those associated with the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure’s “precertification” period.

Moskowitz was unsure what the City’s true intent or objective was in creating the new regulations, but he believes that the long-held concept of “as-of-right development” is being watered down. Ultimately, land use attorneys and developers will have to wait and see how the new rules are implemented, but Moskowitz said that, for now, he is advising his clients that the new process will likely cost them more time and money, and potentially lead to more issues earlier in the development process.

Still an active industry. Despite the fact that financing has been very limited, Moskowitz’s clients have remained active. Moskowitz explained that, as developers look to reposition their properties, conversations with clients have focused on creating new time frames for alternative development strategies. Moskowitz stated that, two years ago, clients needed to decide between building as-of-right and putting shovels in the ground within eight months, or facing the uncertainty of going before the City Planning Commission for a rezoning or before the BSA for a variance “to do a little more.” Back then, the majority of his clients opted for the as-of-right project. Now, some of his clients are not in the same rush to get their projects in the ground.

Moskowitz noted that there has been a heightened interest in public/private partnerships ever since the recent federal stimulus package increased the supply of money available for lending. As Moskowitz explained, the public sector needs the money and the private sector is looking for opportunities.   — Peter Schikler

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