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De Blasio Starts Remote Land Use Review to Thaw Frozen Development Process

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A person walks past construction around the Gowanus Canal, July 10, 2020.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

Facing growing pressure from the real estate industry, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday that he would restart the city’s land use process in August and intensify the work in September.

The city is launching a new portal called NYC Engage to foster public participation and for community boards to use as they review proposals remotely. 

The announcement comes just days after THE CITY reported on the growing frustration over the wait for the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which has been frozen since mid-March due to the pandemic, to resume.

The City Planning Commission will begin meeting online in August to vote on projects already midway through the usually six-month ULURP process. In mid-September, the Department of City Planning will begin certifying new proposals to begin the six-month review.

“It is time to re-engage the city planning process and move the city forward,” the mayor said at his daily briefing.

The news proved a relief to the real estate industry and its representatives, with some two dozen projects in limbo and the city’s financial picture upended by COVID-19.

“I am speaking for everyone who represents a stakeholder in the process that it is a most important step in reopening the city that will set the stage for the city’s future public infrastructure and demonstrate the city’s openness to future development,” said Paul Selver, co-chair of land use at the law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel LLP.

Who’s on First?

However, many questions remain.

Last month, Deputy Mayor Vicki Been conceded in a webinar that the city would be unable to complete approvals on all the developments in the pipeline before the Dec. 31, 2021, end of the de Blasio administration. She also drew attention by describing a matrix that would guide decisions on which proposals would get priority.

“Does this project provide services, infrastructure, housing in a neighborhood disproportionately affected by COVID?” she said. “Does it bring infrastructure that can help the city recover? Does it bring jobs and what kind of jobs and to what neighborhoods?” 

Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been speaks during a City Hall news conference, March 12, 2020.

Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

A spokesperson later added that the city is also focused on efforts that “help to dismantle long-standing racial inequities.”

One of the biggest efforts in the wings is a de Blasio-supported rezoning of the area around Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal that is expected to generate more than 8,000 new apartments by 2035, at least a third of them affordable.

Other major projects include transforming the site of the Grand Hyatt Hotel at Grand Central into a new mixed-use project with office space, a smaller hotel and retail, and a 12-million-square-foot development on the Queens waterfront where Amazon’s second headquarters was to have been built.

The mayor on Wednesday did not discuss how projects would be prioritized. 

Selver believes the priority list makes sense, and that projects should be judged on how “the city can generate a substantial number of jobs because we really need those jobs.”

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