NYC’s land use ballot measure, explained

Max
Touhey

What to know about Ballot Question No. 5 in this year’s
general election

It’s Election Day! In
this year’s general election
, New Yorkers aren’t just being
asked to vote on candidates for various elected positions;
they’re also being asked to help amend the municipal charter, the
governing document of the entire city of New York.

Turn your ballot over and you’ll find
five questions
addressing different issues within the charter.
Four of these revolve around things like increased oversight of the
NYPD, the implementation of ranked choice voting, and the creation
of a “rainy day fund” in the city’s budget.

But for Curbed’s purposes, there is one measure related to
land use:
Ballot question No. 5
, which would amend the city’s Uniform
Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). This measure would, in essence,
give borough presidents and community boards more time to review
project summaries for developments subject to ULURP, and would
require that project summaries be posted online.

If you’re confused by what that paragraph means, you’re
likely not alone—here, we’ve broken down this particular ballot
measure, as well as who’s for and against it, and what it could
mean for the city.

Okay, so help me out: What is ULURP and why should I care?

An excellent, and somewhat complicated, question!

All land in the city is zoned for a particular
use—residential, commercial, and so on—and for a certain
allowable density. (It’s … complicated.)
Let’s say a developer or property owner wants to build something
on land that they own, but the zoning for the underlying land
doesn’t match what they want to build. Or maybe they want to
construct a more dense building than the current zoning allows. In
order to make those changes happen, the developer or property owner
would need the city to agree to
rezone the land
for their preferred use—and to do that, they
must go through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or
ULURP.

ULURP is a complex, multi-step process (the Department of City
Planning has
a chart that lays out the various steps
) that requires a buy-in
from various local elected officials and community groups. Once a
developer or property owner files an application for a ULURP for a
particular site, that application must then be reviewed and
approved by the local community board, the appropriate borough
president, the City Planning Commission, the City Council, and
ultimately, the mayor. At any step in the process, one of those
groups can suggest modifications to the developer’s proposal, or
reject it outright; the community board, CPC, and City Council also
hold hearings on the proposal, which give the public a chance to
weigh in.

So why does this matter? Many major neighborhood changes are the
product of this particular process. Neighborhood-wide rezonings
spearheaded by the city—like the recent ones in East New York,

Inwood
, and East Harlem—must go through ULURP, and offer the
affected communities a chance to make their voices heard. It’s
the same for single-building projects—for example,
80 Flatbush Avenue
, which was approved after making its way
through the ULURP process—and larger developments like the

jails that could replace Rikers Island
, which were
recently approved by the City Council
, closing the ULURP
loop.

How will this ballot measure change the process?

Once ULURP begins for a project, there are certain deadlines the
developers and the various local groups and agencies must abide by,
with the whole process taking about seven months (assuming
everything goes smoothly). Community boards have 60 days to review
a project once the ULURP application has been filed with DCP; after
the board renders its decision, the borough president has 30 days
to conduct their review; and so on and so forth.

This ballot measure will change the process in two ways: It will
give community boards extra time—15 to 30 days—to review a land
use application, but only for those filed in June and July. And it
will make DCP provide an in-depth summary of any projects that are
in the pre-certification phase to the relevant community board and
borough president at least 30 days before the application is
complete.

The case for ballot question No. 5

Supporters of the ballot measure include a cadre of the city’s
preservation groups, including the Municipal
Art Society
, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, and the

Greenwich Village Society of Historic Preservation
. Those
organizations argue that the change is relatively modest, but will
allow for more meaningful engagement with the city’s often
onerous rezoning process.

“Ultimately this is all about fairness, giving the community
more time to understand rezoning proposals,” MAS president
Elizabeth Goldstein wrote in
a letter
to members of that organization.

Kerry McLean, who works in neighborhood planning at WHEDCo, told

City Limits
that the ballot measure’s changes “are small
but necessary, and the more time and the more information the
community has, the better.”

The case against ballot question No. 5

Opponents of the measure see it as a roadblock toward building
much-needed housing in New York City in a more expedient
fashion.

“The city has an urgent need to build more affordable housing,
fast,” the New York Times editorial board
recently wrote
. “Delaying that already lengthy, onerous
process isn’t an option the city should consider.”

Open NY For All, a self-described YIMBY group, expressed a
similar viewpoint. “Housing delayed is housing denied,” the
group said in a statement submitted to the campaign finance board.
“ULURP is already one of the longest review processes in the US,
taking up to eight months in the best of circumstances. The result:
higher development costs, cancelled projects, and increased rents.
Instead of holding projects hostage to their vacations, community
boards should act promptly and maintain their schedules.”

And just as supporters have issues with the measure’s lack of
comprehensive ULURP reform, so too do its opponents, including
urban planning professor Tom Angotti. “‘Tweaking’ the Charter
is not enough,” he said in a statement to the campaign finance
board. “Without requiring comprehensive planning as a framework
for land use decision-making, without insuring that all community
boards have professional planners and adequate financing, such
minor adjustments would force them to stretch their limited
resources even further.”

Source: FS – All – Real Estate News 1
NYC’s land use ballot measure, explained