It’s no secret that local Council members typically have veto power over what developments go up in their districts. But after the City Council rejected a rezoning proposal for affordable housing in Inwood when the local member dropped his support, the practice is getting more scrutiny—particularly from a mayor who once held the same sway when he sat in the Council himself.
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who served three terms in the council and continues to deal with land use questions as borough president, called the question “a hard one.”
“In twelve years on the Council, the tradition of deference on local land use matters gave me the leverage I needed to negotiate better land use deals for my constituents,” Brewer said in an e-mailed statement. “It’s a tradition that usually produces better outcomes—but like all traditions, it can’t be absolute, and it shouldn’t be abused.”
This kind of local control is not unique to New York City government, says Paul Graziano, an urban planning consultant and Queens preservationist, who said the practice occurs “pretty much everywhere around the country” in state legislatures and in the federal government.
There are examples of local control on larger stages, too—the New York State Legislature itself must receive a “home rule” message to pass a bill if it affects a particular city, locale or municipality.
Graziano said the practice works in constituents’ favor most of the time—often, the city wants to pursue development to which locals are opposed, and they can often influence their local elected official more effectively or directly. Amid that kind of local outreach, Rodriguez, who supported the MIH zoning amendment that paved the way for such deals, seemed to struggle to decide how to vote on Sherman Plaza. A committee vote on the project was scuttled at the last minute, he waffled about whether he’d actually announce a position at a press conference and was even heckled by opponents to the development while he spoke at length before announcing his final decision.