ULURP Remains Suspended, What Next?

Why did ULURP remain suspended when so many City agencies and public bodies took to virtual operations? On March 16, 2020, the Department of City Planning announced that, pursuant to an executive order from Mayor Bill de Blasio, the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and all relevant public hearings and votes were suspended as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the suspension, Community Boards, Borough Presidents, and the City Council have virtually convened to tend to other matters but have not addressed any new or pending ULURP applications. Meanwhile, City Planning has accepted filings, but has yet to certify any new applications until the suspension is lifted. To read CityLand’s initial coverage of the ULURP suspension, click here.

As days pass, community members, public officials, private developers are left to wonder what the ULURP process will look like upon its resumption. Will community board district offices and Borough Presidents’ land use staffs face an unprecedented backlog of applications? How is the real estate industry coping with the pause?


ULURP is the standardized public review procedure for a multitude of land use actions outside the scope of the City’s Zoning Resolution, or not considered “as-of-right.” These actions, among others, include changes to the city map, designating or changing zoning districts and getting a special permit within the Zoning Resolution. ULURP generally functions on a timed schedule where Community Boards, Borough Presidents, the City Planning Commission, the City Council and the Mayor are allotted a specified time to review an application and make an approval/disapproval, recommendation or modification based on their legal authority.

These hard-line periods of review have long been relied on by applicants and private developers for planning and predictability purposes. Community board members and public officials have at times criticized the rigidness of the procedure because it does not afford enough time for deep review into the environmental and socioeconomic impacts of often complicated applications.

As recent as the November 2019, New York City voters approved a Charter Revision Commission proposal that extends the Community Board review period by an additional fifteen to thirty days for applications certified in June and July. Prior to the approval, Community Boards and their respective land use committees frequently expressed difficulty reviewing a docket of complex applications during summer hiatuses.

So, what does this mean if the ULURP process was to resume this summer?

Well, according to City Planning, that will not be a problem. City Planning Deputy Press Secretary Joe Marvilli stated, “The ULURP process has many stakeholders, including 59 community boards. We’re working closely with all stakeholders to make sure we meet their needs for a consistent and reliable resumption of public review. We will have more information available in the next few weeks on our plans to resume public review in the late summer.”

Why didn’t ULURP restart in the spring?

Since the start of the pandemic, Governor Cuomo has relaxed the requirements of the State’s Open Meetings Law. Public bodies like the City Council and community boards have convened and completed many of their responsibilities despite not having a “physically” present quorum. Even though platforms like Zoom and Webex have been incorporated by public bodies citywide, the City Planning Commission has not publicly convened since a March 2, 2020 review session. By contrast, related land use agencies like the Board of Standards and Appeals and the Landmarks Preservation Commission offer virtual public hearings and are moving forward as scheduled. To read CityLand’s prior coverage of Community Boards’ shift to virtual operations and the relaxation of the Open Meetings Law, click here.

So why not start ULURP when these other agencies and bodies started virtual hearings? Well the answer appears to turn towards the heightened desire for community participation in the ULURP process, and a sustained concern about digital divides throughout parts of the city. More simply, “a fair and equitable restart.”

Ross F. Moskowitz, real estate and land use partner at the firm Stroock, Stroock & Lavan, told CityLand, “Although some NYC agencies as well as other public bodies have begun virtual public hearings, the City Planning Commission has a unique challenge due to the historical number of people who testify and are trying to address any potential digital divides. “

Many Community Boards have shared similar sentiment. Josephine Beckmann, District Manager of Community Board 10 in Brooklyn, said “Since the [ULURP] requires public review via public hearings, it is important that Community Boards be able to provide sufficient public outreach to ensure residents and stakeholders are not only notified about the proposal and invited to attend a public hearing…but must also be provided an opportunity to review plans.”

From her experience, Beckman told CityLand that it took several weeks for the Board to get acquainted with the remote meeting platforms and train staff. The problems they encountered in large part stem from the digital divide in the district. Ultimately, Beckmann agreed with the pause order and its continuation.

What next?

Even though the physical office is closed, City Planning staff has been working remotely during normal business hours. For certain applications there are revised filing protocols but overall the staff has been able to respond to all inquiries and the other work required of the agency. Since announcing that ULURP is suspended, City Planning has received approximately 64 ULURP filings. Keep in mind, the new filings do not include the applications that were certified prior ULURP’s suspension, or applications that are currently in the pre-certification process. The previously certified applications currently exist somewhere in a ULURP limbo. But what does this mean to the real estate industry, public-private partnerships, and an affordable housing crisis that just saw a multi-million dollar hit to the Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s capital budget?

Paul Selver, co-chair of Kramer Levin’s Land Use Practice, explained to CityLand that “while there may be new [ULURP] filings, it does not mean that the projects are close to certification.” The work the City Planning and private applicants do as part of the pre-certification process has continued remotely during ULURP’s hiatus and can take anywhere from nine to fifteen months or longer depending on the project’s complexity. Selver pointed out that the “projects that are most affected [by the pause] are those that are close to certification or are mid-ULURP.” Those projects often have contractual obligations and project deadlines with a number of legal, financial and practical ramifications upon delay.

Adding to his prior comment, Ross Moskowitz said, “It is extremely important to recognize that the NYC economy will gain momentum through the start of these projects which can only happen when the pause is lifted.  Allowing projects to be discussed and debated by the decision makers sooner than later will allow the real estate industry to invest the billions of dollars they are ready to do in order to jump start projects that will create jobs, affordable housing and community benefits.  Prioritizing public-private projects that are shovel ready pending land use approvals should be the goal.”

Going forward, City Planning expressed a commitment to focusing on projects that support affordable housing, racial equity, economic development, climate resiliency and public health.  Zoning for Coastal Flood Resiliency and the Gowanus Neighborhood Plan are two projects expected to receive priority.

Other Comments

The Borough Presidents’ offices we spoke to appeared prepared for the ULURP to resume, and confident in their respective staffs’ ability to aid the Community Boards in the resumption.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said, “This has been an unprecedented few months, but I have no doubt that City Planning will be reasonable in giving notice once the ULURP clock start again and that our Community Boards will be ready to handle whatever comes their way. We have supported our Boards through appropriate technology to hold public meetings and through a series of trainings. We look forward to doing our usual scrutinizing of each aspect of ULURP projects and maximizing the potential for affordable housing and other public amenities.”

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo conveyed that his Land Use Division was “up-to-date” and has functioned well both remotely and at Borough Hall during the pandemic. He further stated, “all ULURP applications will be reviewed within the established timelines. Additionally, the Division will also respond expeditiously to community board requests for support and remind boards that public meetings should be timely and accessible.”

A spokesperson for Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adam’s office stated, “Our office has worked diligently amid the COVID-19 pandemic to address ULURP applications that have advanced through the borough president’s public hearings prior to PAUSE, and continuing to advance such applications that had virtual public hearings during PAUSE. Our office has already held two virtual public hearings on separate items. We are in a good position to manage new applications once the normal process resumes.”

For New York City-specific COVID-19 updates, the City established an information site with updates from all major administrative agencies. Agencies include the Department of Buildings, City Planning, Citywide Administrative Services, the Department of Finance and the Department of Transportation among others. You can find that page here.

By: Jason Rogovich (Jason Rogovich is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019)



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