The current Uniform Land Use Review Procedure requires the Department of City Planning to make development applications public when the Planning Commission certifies them, roughly seven months before the City Council would vote to approve them. But applicants often submit paperwork describing their projects much earlier. Their plans can go through months or even years of pre-certification work. These pre-application forms matter because once an application is certified, it is difficult or impossible to make major changes.
One of us, Borough President Brewer, has made a practice of submitting Freedom of Information Law requests for those forms so her office can get a head start. The other, Land Use Chairman Greenfield, formally requested that they be turned over voluntarily. We both think it’s time to take that approach citywide.
If community boards, borough presidents and council members can review these forms at roughly the same time the Department of City Planning can, then they’ll know what’s coming. They’ll be better equipped to think through projects’ merits and demerits, seek out input from affected stakeholders earlier, and flag community concerns before it’s too late to address them.
So today, as the Committee on Land Use holds an oversight hearing on the mayor’s preliminary budget for the Department of City Planning, the council is requesting—as a “term and condition” of adopting the department’s budget—that pre-application forms be shared automatically with the relevant community board, borough president and council member. A range of data on the pre-application forms will also have to be included in the annual Mayor’s Management Report.
Bringing more transparency to the zoning process will make it less of a high-stakes, zero-sum game. When that happens, we’ll be better able to use zoning to deliver the results—whether it is affordable housing, commercial and manufacturing space, infrastructure, or open space—that our neighborhoods need.