After being paused since March, the city’s public land use review process Uniform Land Use Review Procedure –better known as ULURP—will begin remote meetings through a new portal system in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.
The first remote City Planning Commission (CPC) meeting will be a review session planned for August 3rd followed by a public meeting on August 5th. Typically during a review session, the CPC discusses new applications that are on the path for public review, holds post-hearing discussions on applications and votes on City Council modifications to land-use plans. Generally, public meetings are where stakeholders can voice their opinion on applications and the CPC votes on those applications.
The announcement comes after the web portal, NYC Engage, was launched for New Yorkers to have access to public meetings. NYC Engage will post dates and times for upcoming meetings and allow stakeholders to participate online or by phone. Language access will also be available. The city says CPC meetings will take place remotely for the foreseeable future.
According to the city, CPC meetings in August will include actions on development projects not subject to public review or ULURP projects which were in public review prior to March 16. The August meetings will also include discussions on city-initiated development projects which are slated for a ULURP process in September.
“As the CPC returns to its regularly scheduled meetings, the health and safety of the public, the commissioners and the staff of the Department of City Planning remain a top priority,” said Marisa Lago, the director of City Planning and CPC chair, in a press release. “Restarting public review remotely will help us stay safe and advance our goals of making New York a more affordable, equitable, resilient and healthy city for all.”
De Blasio’s executive order forcing ULURP’s suspension, which is set to be lifted in September, was intended to 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.
The restart of ULURP revives the prospects for the administration’s final neighborhood-wide rezoning, in Gowanus, to move ahead.
In Gowanus, local Councilmembers Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, local community group such as the Gowanus Neighborhood Coalition for Justice (GNJC), residents and local businesses have worked on the plan with the city for years. The Gowanus rezoning proposal was set to move forward through the ULURP process earlier in the year before the COVID-19 crisis struck New York. (The GNJC is calling for improvements to the plan.)
In May, Landers told City Limits he feared the delay could set back the rezoning plan permanently. And earlier this month, Bronx Councilmember and City Council Land Use Committee Chair Rafeal Salamanca told City Limits the freezing of the ULURP process was holding back affordable housing and infrastructure projects while other related city agencies were meeting again.
In his 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.
The Department of City Planning (DCP) said the delay in restarting was to ensure all 59 community boards were ready to host remote public hearings. Community boards, with volunteer members, must also adhere to ULURP timeline and typically do not meet during summer months. According to the CPC, public hearings will follow the same rules that applied prior to the COVID-19 crisis such as the need for a quorum, scheduling, sign-up public testimonies and testimony length.
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 an advisory 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 her or his recommendation.
Afterwards, the City Planning Commission—whose 13* members are appointed by the mayor, borough presidents and public advocate—has 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 through the full Land Use Committee, 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.
So far, six neighborhoods—East New York in Brooklyn, Downtown Far Rockaway in Queens, Jerome Avenue in the Bronx, Bay Street in Staten Island and the Manhattan neighborhoods of Inwood and East Harlem—have seen large-scale rezonings, although the Inwood rezoning has since been annulled by a state judge. In January, a potential Bushwick rezoning ground to a halt after the administration and a group of local stakeholders fell out over the shape of the zoning changes to be considered. This February, the city halted the Bronx’s Southern Boulevard proposed rezoning after local Councilmember Rafael Salamanca and community groups all but rejected the city’s plan.
*In an editing error, the original version said there 7 City Planning Commission members. There are currently 13 members.