NYC charter commission steers clear of land use hot spots

TRD NEW YORK /
Sep.September 03, 2010 12:00 AM

September 03, 2010 05:30PM

Adam Friedman, director of the Pratt Center

Six months after being formed, the city Charter Revision Commission issued its final report yesterday, declining to make any recommendations on the three thorniest land use issues before it.

The 15-member panel appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg heard from deeply divided interest groups such as the Real Estate Board of New York and Pratt Center for Community Development, but said certain issues were too complex to tackle in the brief period allotted to them.

The commission acknowledged the deep divide on those issues, such as a proposal from community advocates and elected officials to increase the influence of community boards and borough board presidents within the ULURP process. The commission declined to make any changes.

“The commission has considered both the criticisms and the responses to [increasing the role of community boards and borough presidents] and recommends for the future both further empirical study and analysis of how such changes would affect development in the city,” the report says.

The panel declined to suggest changes to the city Department of City Planning uniform land use review procedure, known as ULURP. In addition, it decided not to propose regulating controversial community benefits agreements or to revise a locally-driven land-use mechanism called 197-a.

However, the panel in its 219-page report did suggest requiring disclosure of third-party campaign spending from independent groups such as real estate interests, and publishing on city maps the locations of private as well as public waste-treatment facilities, the panel’s report issued yesterday says.

The commission, appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in March, was directed to review the city’s charter and after holding a series of hearings, to make recommendations on how to revise it. Its major recommendations yesterday were a term-limit proposal, the disclosure of independent campaign expenditures and reducing signature requirements for candidates’ petitions.

The report contained no surprises, coming weeks after a draft was released, but the findings do memorialize the arguments of the competing interests for any future attempts to change the charter, which is the city’s constitution.

Michael Slattery, senior vice president of the trade group the Real Estate Board of New York, said he was disappointed that, for example, the panel did not recommend limiting the role of the city council in the special permitting process for new development, which at times he said becomes political. But overall, he said the status quo was better than many suggested changes.

“Clearly there were a number of proposals that would have further tipped the balance where local issues would supersede citywide issues. In that sense not doing anything was better than doing something,” he said.

But advocates for greater community input were disappointed.

Adam Friedman, director of the planning advocacy organization Pratt Center, blamed the broad scope of the commission for its limited results.

“We need to have a more focused process on land use,” he said, suggesting a commission with those issues alone on its agenda would yield better results.

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