'Planning Together' Leaves the People Out

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 A bill proposed by City Council Speaker Corey Johnson at the end of 2020 could change the future of development for the city. However, many are saying not in a good way. At Community Board 14’s recent Housing and Land Use Committee meeting, independent planning consultant Paul Graziano broke down the details of the plan that led committee members to unanimously oppose it.

At the March 25 virtual meeting, Graziano explained that on December 16, 2020, Johnson introduced Intro 2186-2020 – a “comprehensive planning” proposal called “Planning Together” to city council. “He described it as bringing comprehensive planning to the City of New York for the very first time,” Graziano said. As a planner with many years of experience, Graziano says he’s “deeply concerned” about what it said. “It is not what I would think that comprehensive planning is, and when I really started to go through it, I was really concerned because the bill is not comprehensive planning at all.”

Graziano went on to explain that the bill would create a brand new bureaucracy over the existing department of city planning and city planning commission, that would create a new land use process for the city “that would essentially create 10 year cycles of development in perpetuity,” he said. “The bill would basically force every community board in the city to absorb new development every decade and this would be based on targets and goals as set by this new bureaucracy, which is led by the director of long-term planning, as what we describe, a new Robert Moses-like figure, who would create targets for all kinds of things but really focusing heavily on population and housing. It’s overdevelopment.”

The director would have the ability to project how many new residents would come to the city over a 10-year period and would force each of the city’s 59 community boards to absorb a certain number of people so that it is equitable. “So in CB14, it’s expected there will be an additional 7,000 people that have to be absorbed over the next 10 years, so there would be the creation of three land use scenarios for each community board area and they would be created 1. From the community board. 2. From the borough president and 3. From these steering committees for long-term planning. Each entity would generate three land use scenarios per community board, and they would get forwarded to city council. They’d vote on each of those 59 proposals and would choose one of those three scenarios and if they couldn’t choose, the director would choose for them. Once this occurs, areas would be designated for future growth,” Graziano said.

He explained that if a developer purchased property in that designated area, they would essentially bypass the standard ULURP process for rezoning since it is already designated as a future growth area, and they would receive little pushback. “The city council member can only call it up voluntarily and the council member has to justify why this rezoning is not appropriate, but if their proposal aligns with the plan, a city council member would have a tough time arguing why it shouldn’t be allowed to go forward.”

The plan would also require the city to create a generic Environmental Impact Statement for the long-term plan, which would further incentivize developers by reducing their costs to be redirected into community benefits. “It’s gonna reduce project costs for developers, not the city. The city will have to do all the work and the developers will have to do supplemental costs instead of full costs that they should be paying if they want a benefit of getting additional square footage built,” Graziano said.

Some other aspects that alarmed Graziano are the sources cited in the report. He says a part of the report says during the Bloomberg administration when rezonings occurred, “they only happened in white wealthy neighborhoods and low-income neighborhoods were ignored or upzoned. As author of half of the rezonings in Queens during Bloomberg years, this is a completely false narrative,” Graziano said. He claims that while working with HPD, the current deputy mayor for Housing and Economic Development, Vicki Been, falsified the housing data that is used in city planning and has led to overwhelming upzoning across the city during the de Blasio administration. “The Planning Together report uses that same data to justify this proposal which will take these constant upzonings and codify them into law and make them happen every decade in perpetuity all across the city,” Graziano said.

Graziano said the report hints at getting rid of single-family housing across New York City in the future. The report cites Minneapolis, which eliminated single family zoning from their plans last year, as a great example. But he explained that as a city that was 70% zoned for single family housing, Minneapolis was in a much different scenario than New York City, which is only 15% zoned for single family housing. “15% of our city is zoned single family and a vast majority, or two-thirds, is in northeast and southeast Queens. We have the most to lose in the entire city if this was to be a consideration,” he said.

A city council hearing was held on February 23 to discuss the bill, which Graziano called “very unusual.” He said the first four hours were dominated by council members Johnson, Lander and Reynoso attacking the chair of the city planning commission, Marisa Lago. “These three council members, particularly the speaker, were incredibly rude, cut her off, told her she was a liar,” he said.  He said the meeting was frontloaded by people in favor of the plan and any dissent didn’t come until six hours in, and by that time, most of the city council left.

However, Graziano says there has been heavy pushback against it. For reasons different than Graziano’s concerns, de Blasio himself has opposed it. Graziano has made it a point to visit community boards across the city to let them know about the plan since they have been left out of discussions about it, and he says every community board thus far has unanimously opposed the plan or has come very close to unanimously opposing it. “It’s snowballed because the legislation is so poorly written and while comprehensive planning is a good idea on its face, and it really is, this is not comprehensive planning, it’s a comprehensive housing and development program,” he said.

Graziano said following the hearing, Johnson decided to put the bill on hold. “But a hold does not mean that it’s dead,” Graziano explained. He fears that city council will try to push it through during the budget process. “The Speaker may try to strongarm people into supporting this in order for him not to take away hundreds of millions from their districts,” he said. He also suggested it could be snuck in right after a new mayor and new city council is elected in November. “I don’t think any of the community boards should be sitting down. I find it grossly insulting that the Speaker, who is supposed to represent the legislature, did not have the decency to contact the first level of government, closest to the people of New York, the community boards.”

After hearing about the plan, the CB14 Housing and Land Use Committee expressed deep concerns and followed suit by making a motion to oppose the plan. The motion was supported unanimously and will be brought to the full community board at April’s meeting.

In the meantime, Graziano urges all New Yorkers to sign a petition against this plan. It can be found at: Change.org/StopNYCIntro2186

 By Katie McFadden

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