NYC Council aims to revamp city planning, pave way more equitable development

Michael Gartland, New York Daily News

The City Council on Wednesday unveiled a comprehensive framework for future development in the city that aims to simplify the approval process for projects and allow for a more equitable distribution of resources.

The focus is to get community input at the beginning of the planning process and attempt to marry disparate planning schemes, which now originate in several city agencies.

“This is streamlining the process. It’s creating coordination. It’s creating more transparency,” Council Speaker Corey Johnson said during a virtual press conference Wednesday. “Fifty-nine community boards will be asked proactively what do you think needs to happen in your district, and then ultimately it will come to the Council.”

Under the current framework, community boards don’t submit needs focused on land-use on a formal basis, but can offer input after projects are under city review. Under the Council plan, a comprehensive citywide analysis of needs would be conducted and submitted to communities to review before engaging in the new planning process.

The 54-page plan, dubbed “Planning Together,” details what Council members and advocates described as failed efforts to create truly comprehensive planning in the past. They said the new plan aims to correct “decades of disinvestment in communities of color.”

Johnson specifically pointed to planning schemes devised by mayors Bloomberg and de Blasio that he said ultimately contradicted themselves because the moving parts of government bureaucracy weren’t coordinated well enough.

Bloomberg’s PlanNYC, he said, resulted in re-zonings that lowered the allowable density in affluent neighborhoods with mass transit hubs.

“Many of the applications that they actually ended up moving forward with conflicted with their sort of quasi-comprehensive plan,” he said. “If we had coordination amongst mayoral agencies, you wouldn’t have this textbook example of one agency being at odds with another. Having a map, which comprehensive planning will give us, can really change the dynamics of rezonings.”

Under the Council’s plan, documents and processes — such as the city’s ten-year capital strategy, the mayor’s management report and the waterfront plan — would all be funneled into one ten-year planning cycle.

But much of the plan is still unclear, such as how exactly it will be implemented through bills expected to be introduced Thursday in the City Council.

Johnson did not make the bills public Wednesday as part of his initial rollout.

The de Blasio administration pushed back on the proposal, but didn’t close the door entirely on it. Spokesman Mitch Schwartz noted that the recent Charter Commission “already decided this approach wouldn’t support our equitable development goals.”

“But we’ll review the speaker’s plan and work closely with the Council on creative, flexible ways to grow this city responsibly,” he said. “Thoughtful city planning is core to our plans to rebuild a fairer, better city as we fight back COVID-19. That’s why our Where We Live NYC report focuses on equitable housing growth, and that’s why we’re so excited about re-zonings in amenity-rich neighborhoods like Soho/Noho and Gowanus.”