City unveils plan to fast-track some housing

Adams administration proposes exemptions from environment review

Adams Unveils Environmental Review Exemptions
Departmernt of City Planning's Dan Garodnick; Mayor Eric Adams (Getty)

The Adams administration Monday revealed its plan to exempt certain housing projects from environmental review.

City Planning proposed rule changes for a process dubbed Green Fast Track that will allow housing projects that meet a list of criteria to skip the city’s environmental review process. The aim is to slash project timelines and save developers hundreds of thousands of dollars, in turn lowering the cost and increasing the supply of housing.

Here is how it works:

Minor actions known as “type II” will be exempt from environmental review. The city has also proposed rules that would enable more projects to qualify as “type II.”

To qualify, projects must use all-electric heating and be located away from “vulnerable coastal areas,” major roads and areas with industrial emissions. Projects in low-density districts must have fewer than 175 units and be smaller than 20,000 square feet, while the threshold for medium- and high-density areas is 250 units and 35,000 square feet.

Eligible projects cannot be taller than 250 feet, and height is capped at 50 feet if the building is next to open space or other “sunlight sensitive resources.” Projects would need to meet other standards related to hazardous materials and noise pollution.

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“We are going to meaningfully speed up the review process for proposals that are good for both housing affordability and the climate,” said Dan Garodnick, director of the Department of City Planning and chair of the City Planning Commission, in a statement. “This change will save valuable time and money to deliver homes for New Yorkers, while maintaining important environmental safeguards.”

The administration came up with the caps based on an analysis of more than 1,000 environmental reviews conducted over the past decade. The study found that “modest housing projects with certain characteristics had no negative impacts on the environment,” according to a press release.

Mayor Eric Adams announced last year that he would target environmental review as part of his “Get Stuff Built” agenda.

A Citizens Budget Commission report last year found that the median time for land use applications to finish the city’s approval process was two and a half years. Most of that time was spent on pre-certification and environmental review; by law the public review portion takes five to seven months.

The administration also hopes the new rules will cut down on lawsuits filed by opponents of development. Such litigation frequently alleges the environmental review fell short of what the city requires. The lawsuits rarely succeed, but do delay projects and run up their costs.

As part of the city’s rulemaking process, various city agencies will hold public hearings before the rules are finalized. 

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