Comprehensive Long-Term Planning or Top-Down Centralized Planning? The Debate Around Intro 2186

Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP

On Tuesday, February 23, 2021, the City Council held a hearing on Intro 2186 (the “Bill”), sponsored by Speaker Corey Johnson, to amend the New York City Charter to require a comprehensive long-term plan for the City.  Specifically, the Bill seeks to establish a 10-year planning cycle to connect the budget, land use and strategic planning processes overseen by the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability (“OLTPS”).

Many stakeholders voiced concerns with the Bill, including, the City Planning Commission, citing concerns over the Bill’s feasibility, overall cost and impact.  The Bill will need approval by both the committee and the full City Council to pass. 

In this Stroock Client Alert, we summarize the key points of the Bill, the hearing and the opposition thereto.

The Bill

The Bill proposes a new 10-year comprehensive planning framework for the City “designed specifically to help correct neighborhood disparities and decades of disinvestment in communities of color and support equitable growth to create a more resilient and inclusive City.”[1]  OLTPS would oversee the planning cycle.  Specifically, the process would be as follows:

• First, OLTPS must produce a Conditions of the City Report (the “COR”), taking into account “racial and socio-economic disparities, access to opportunity, displacement risk, short- and long-term risks, impacts of prior development and budget decisions, and current and projected infrastructure needs.”[2] 

• Next, OLTPS, in conjunction with a new representative Long-Term Planning Steering Committee, would review the COR in order to develop a Citywide Goals Statement.  The Citywide Goals Statement would outline (1) policy goals; (2) measurable citywide targets; and (3) criteria and methodology for district level targets.[3]

• After the Citywide Goals Statement is produced, the City would be required to prepare a Draft Long-Term Plan consisting of five categories: 

○ Strategic Policies.  Such policies include housing, transportation, open space, public health, arts and culture, sustainability, resilience and capital and expense budget needs for each agency to implement these policies within a set timeline.

○ Analysis of the Zoning Resolution.  This will include recommendations for citywide zoning changes and policies to manage the waterfront.

○ District Level Targets.  These targets would be developed by the Long-Term Planning Steering Committee and would seek to equitably distribute growth, infrastructure and amenities across the City.

○ Community District Land Use Scenarios.  The Bill would require that three land use scenarios be developed for each community district in the City that include applicable proposed future land uses, including but not limited to: 

♦ open space,

♦ institutions,

♦ industrial,

♦ commercial,

♦ residential,

♦ transportation and utilities with indications for relative height and density.

Each of the three land use scenarios are required to prioritize areas for population growth in areas of opportunity with a low risk of displacement.

○ Community District Budget Needs.  This would include the capital and expense budget needs of the district under current conditions, existing budget commitments and additional funds needed to accomplish the District Level Targets over 10 years.

In broad strokes, OLTPS would be required to hold public meetings within each community district to solicit input on the Draft Long-Term Plan, and submit the draft to the City Council, Borough Presidents and Community Boards, after which OLTPS would produce a Final Long-Term Plan to be adopted by the City Council.  OLTPS would be required to develop and submit an update plan every four years to the Mayor and Speaker of the City Council.[4]

The City would also be required to complete a Generic Environmental Impact Statement (“GEIS”), which would “identify the cumulative impacts and infrastructure needs triggered by the development, growth or change proposed by the Long-Term Plan.”[5]

The adopted Final Long-Term Plan will “serve as the foundation for both public and private development decisions.”[6]  For example, land use applications that are consistent with the Final Long-Term Plan would only be subject to a City Council vote if the land use application is voluntarily “called up” by the City Council.  As well, land use applications consistent with the Final Long-Term Plan would only be required to complete a supplemental environmental review on the impacts specific to that project.  The Bill’s sponsors believe this will reduce project costs and incentivize development consistent with the Final Long-Term Plan.

The Hearing

The Speaker opened the hearing with an overview of the Bill, and vocalized his support, claiming that, among other things, it would provide Community Boards and the public at large with new resources, data and analyses to help spur proactive community planning, and more equitably distribute rezoning tools so that communities have the ability to “proactively plan for their futures.”  The Speaker also stated that the Bill will not require any amendments to the Zoning Resolution or the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP”)[7], will not trigger any rezonings, eliminate single-family rezonings or amend the Community Boards’ role in the land use process.

Chair Marisa Lago of the City Planning Commission spoke in opposition to the Bill.   Her criticism fell into three categories: (1) feasibility; (2) cost; and (3) impact.  The key points are summarized below:

• Feasibility:

○ Typically, it takes years of community planning to achieve neighborhood rezonings; this Bill, however, calls for this process to be completed in 9.5 months. 

○ A better model for planning efforts is a framework like One NYC, which allows the City to mobilize specific priorities and work with experts in those particular areas.  A broad planning process would dilute those discrete interests and voices and hinder the City’s ability to address this wide expanse of issues.  

• Cost:

○ The GEIS alone would cost roughly $0.5 billion. 

○ Benefits of a GEIS would be fairly limited since it would not take into account the particulars of a specific land use action and other important factors examined during the environmental review process.  

• Impact

○ The Final Long-Term Plan is not binding, giving communities and council members who are resistant to affordable housing or other amenities the ability to challenge these targets twice: once when it votes on city-wide efforts and then again under ULURP. 

○ It provides another opportunity for those opposed to development to challenge these processes via litigation, slowing down the production of affordable housing. 

○ The long time frame would limit the City’s ability to respond quickly and adapt to a changing landscape, and at worst, disincentivize action in a timely manner. 

○ The Bill is highly bureaucratic, and provides no checks against undue legislative involvement. For example, City Council members currently have the discretion to voluntarily call up land use actions and do often; providing another ability to do so under this Bill would only further slow the process.

The hearing was also opened up to the public.  While there was some support for the Bill, much of it came with caveats.  Supporters and opponents alike both agreed emphatically that the Bill is a “top-down” proposal, citing that the Bill lacked community input when it was drafted, and further, that the process itself outlined under the Bill consolidates power in the Mayor’s office, thereby taking away power from the community districts.

[1] See Corey Johnson, “Planning Together:  A New Comprehensive Planning Framework for New York City,” December 2020, available at https://council.nyc.gov/news/2020/12/16/planning-together/.

[2] See Summary of Intro 2186, available at https://legistar.council.nyc.gov/LegislationDetail.aspx?ID=4735629&GUID=BAACDD2D-290D-4F35-B0F7-578E4458498A&Options=ID%7CText%7C&Search=comprehensive+planning.

[3] See Planning Together, supra note 1.

[4] See Intro 2186. 

[5] See Intro 2186. 

[6] See Planning Together, supra note 1.

[7] See Planning Together, supra note 1.

[8] ULURP is a statutory five-to-seven month process that requires review and advisory recommendations by the community board and Borough President, review and vote by the City Planning Commission and review and vote by the City Council.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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