Adi Talwar

Rafael Salamanca, Jr.

The city’s land-use review process, which was shut down in the spring in the face of the pandemic, needs a quick restart, a Council leader saysquicker than the one the de Blasio administration appears to be contemplating.

The city’s Department of City Planning is planning to release details for the land use public review process in the coming weeks while the city begins its reopening phases during the novel Coronavirus epidemic, however, the City Council Land Use Committee Chair says some city agencies have been moving forward with land use issues and legislation while the city has the land use public review process on pause under the Mayor’s emergency order. 

In March, an executive order by Mayor de Blasio suspended the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or ULURP in order to avoid the need to hold public gatherings and minimize the potential spread of COVID-19. As a result, Community Boards, Borough Presidents, Borough Boards, the City Planning Commission (CPC) and the City Council were not able to convene to consider land use applications or hold public hearings on applications. ULURP covers the acquisition or dispensing of public land, rezonings, changes to the city map and other policy moves.

Aides to the City Council Land Use Committee chair, Bronx Councilmember Rafael Salamanca office say they have been waiting to get details on how the city’s Department of City Planning (DCP) plans to restart the land use public review process, but have yet to receive specific guidance.  

In a July 1 letter to de Blasio, Deputy Mayor of Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been and Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chair of the City Planning Commission Marisa Lago, Salamanca wrote that land-use projects, while often controversial, are critical to meeting the city’s current and future needs such as, “housing, economic development, schools, among many other considerations.

“Those conversations can be hard but they are only more important in a moment when we as a city are approaching unemployment numbers we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” he wrote.

The letter noted that while ULURP has been shut down, the City Council has been able to hold hearings and take actions on land-use items and legislation, while other agencies such as the Board of Standards and Appeals, the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Community Boards have also convened virtually.

“As a former district manager of a Bronx Community Board 2– the borough impacted the most by this terrible epidemic – I know the challenges [Community Boards] and communities face but we all have to step up and the City Planning Commission is no exception. We need to get back to the business of advancing projects which will help lay the foundation for an equitable economic recovery,” read the letter.

Salamanca proposed three immediate steps; the first is for the City Planning Commission (CPC) to convene immediately and if needed more than twice a month in order “to make decisions about which project will support this recovery and get those to the Council for final action.” The second step would be for the CPC to take action on “items where community boards have already acted.” And lastly, the CPC should restart the ULURP process “for new projects in close consultation with the Council, Borough Presidents, and affected community boards immediately” while providing resources for Community Boards which may lack technical support.

Once a land-use application enters the ULURP process, community boards get 60 days to review the proposal and must hold a public hearing on it. The board can render a decision on the application and it moves to the borough president’s office. The borough president has a 30-day period in which to review and give their recommendation. 

Afterwards, the City Planning Commissionwhose seven members are appointed by the mayor,  borough presidents and public advocatehas 60 days to vote on the proposal. Then the application moves to the City Council, first through a land use subcommittee (Landmarks, Planning or Zoning) then the full Land Use Committee weighs in, before a final vote from the City Council. The legislative body has 50 days to act on a ULURP proposal. Lastly, the Mayor signs off on it. 

The city’s Department of City Planning tells City Limits it also wants a restart, but is working to ensure that it is fair and equitable, and offers appropriate technical support, and that all stakeholdersincluding community boards, which often do not convene during the summer monthshave ample time to participate in the public review process.

“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,” wrote a DCP spokesperson in an email to City Limits. 

The timing of ULURP’s restart could help determine whether the last de Blasio neighborhood rezoning, in Gowanus, moves toward Council approval before the 2021 elections reshuffle city government.