New York City’s Building and Land Use Approval Streamlining Task Force Report
Twenty five (25) New York City Agencies joined together to fix the broken development process in the City. The Building and Land use Approval Streamlining Taskforce (BLAST) identified 111 recommendations to improve the City’s administration of development projects.
BLAST recommended improvements in the report will reduce approval times by 50% and help accelerate the creation of affordable housing, drive economic growth, and build stronger communities by reducing regulations, streamlining business and development processes, and modernizing the relationship between the responsibilities of government and the needs of the public.
The goal of BLAST and these recommendations are to:
- Increase the speed of compliant projects while decreasing costs;
- Ensure environmental protection and meaningful public participation;
- Promote an increase in affordable housing and environmental sustainability and;
- Reduce risk for entrepreneur businesses and emerging developers by improving predictability of the development process.
The Task Force focused on three of New York City’s governmental processes: (1) City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR), (2) the Land Use approval process, and (3) the Department of Buildings’ permitting process.
Equity’s Planning Team is here to assist you with all of your CEQRA and ULURP needs. Over the past two years Equity has authored 35% of all certified CEQR environmental documents, which is more than an other consulting practice in NYC.
City Environmental Quality Review Process (CEQR)
City Environmental Quality Review—or CEQR—is a process by which New York City agencies evaluate what effect, if any, a discretionary action may have on the environment. The CEQR process is required, for example, when city agencies utilize their discretion to approve a rezoning necessary, approve a special permit application, or approve public funding of construction projects. These discretionary actions can be initiated by the City or by private applicants.
CEQR requires city agencies to assess, disclose, and mitigate to the greatest extent practicable the significant environmental impacts of projects. It considers up to nineteen areas of analysis, including, but not limited to, open space, shadows, noise, public health, sanitation, infrastructure, and socioeconomic conditions.
The Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination (MOEC) publishes and periodically updates the CEQR Technical Manual, which provides guidance to agencies in undertaking the CEQR process and contains technical guidance and methodologies for environmental review of the nineteen areas of analysis.
Over the past ten years, an average of 350 housing, commercial and infrastructure projects per year went through the CEQR process.
There are 45 recommended changes in the report that seek to improve the CEQR process in four critical ways:
- improving the quality of environmental impact analyses required in the CEQR process;
- getting better data inputs for environmental impact analyses and better sharing of that data with the public through an online public portal;
- breaking down silos among city agencies and increasing the capacity of city agencies who participate in the CEQR process, and;
- streamlining content in public-facing reports produced in the CEQR process to improve legibility and public understanding.
These recommended initiatives will reduce the time and complexity of the CEQR process, while ensuring meaningful analyses of a project’s environmental impact and increasing information available to the public.
Land Use Process
Most development in New York City is as-of-right, meaning that a proposed development complies with the existing Zoning Resolution and can seek a building permit administered by the Department of Buildings without going through a land use approval process. However, some projects require special review or approvals, or modifications to existing zoning regulations. Some are required to be reviewed by the Department of City Planning (DCP) and the City Planning Commission (CPC) in a formal public review process, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP. The duration of the formal process is dictated by the City Charter and is limited to seven to eight months. However, that formal process does not begin until an indefinite “pre-certification” process is completed by DCP.
The pre-certification process has no mandated timeline and can take up to 2 years before public review in ULURP can begin. Once certified into the ULURP process by CPC, public review begins with 60 days for review by the relevant Community Board, followed by 30 days for review by the Borough President. Community Boards and Borough Presidents issue advisory votes. The City Planning Commission then has 60 days to hold a public hearing and issue a vote in the form of a CPC Report on the application. Within 50 days of receiving the CPC Report, the City Council will hold its public hearing and vote. Finally, the Mayor may opt to veto a Council vote, in which case the City Council can attempt to override a Mayoral veto by a two-thirds vote. If approved through public review, zoning changes or other actions that were part of the application go into effect. The property owner may then file for building permits or other approvals needed.
BLAST to improve the City’s land use processes three ways:
- reducing the back-and-forth between DCP staff and applicants during the pre-certification stage;
- creating a fast lane for review in the precertification stage by DCP staff for smaller-scale projects, and;
- improving public participation in the land use process.
These recommended initiatives will reduce time and costs of the land use process and improve the public’s opportunity for meaningful participation in local development.
Building Permitting Process
New York City has a built environment unlike any other city. As the primary regulator of building construction, the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) administers regulations for the compliant construction of housing and commercial space for our growing city, while promoting safety on construction sites and in the City’s nearly 1.1 million buildings.
This complicated permitting process to build, while necessary to ensure the safety of all New Yorkers and compliance with applicable laws, can take months and cost developers hundreds of thousands of dollars, leading to higher costs and less development.
When a homeowner wants to make a basic renovation or add an accessory dwelling unit, or a developer wants to construct a new affordable housing complex, or a small business wants to open a new location, they must go through the Department of Buildings’ permitting processes. Currently, this applicant must navigate the complex permitting processes themselves including multiple agencies and applicants currently have no way of knowing how long it will take to complete all the various steps in this permitting process.
BLAST recommends to improve the City’s building permitting process in four ways:
- breaking down silos and reducing the ping pong between city agencies using technology tools;
- focusing DOB review on what matters most: safety;
- reducing bottlenecks in DOB review by removing duplication of work by licensed professionals, and;
- addressing gaps in the building code, rules, and local law.
The recommended initiatives will minimize the time it takes for entrepreneurs and developers to receive permits while maintaining the highest level of safety for both workers and the general public.
How did the task force develop these recommendations?
BLAST conducted one-on-one interviews with agency Commissioners, Executive Directors, and Chief Officers from 25 different NYC agencies. There were over 40 hours of meetings held in three separate agency working groups, to address the three workstreams: Environmental Review, Land Use, and Building Permitting. BLAST staffers from each agency created a process map to explain how their agency administered the review and approval process and recent performance metrics and then submitted proposed initiatives and policy changes regarding their own and other agencies.
BLAST also engaged over 50 stakeholder groups, including professionals that utilize these development processes and organizations that represent community interests. Four roundtable discussions were held—one for each workstream subject and one dedicated solely to affordable housing development. In addition, individual outreach was conducted to trades and industry representative groups. The suggestions from these stakeholders were coupled with proposals from agencies, resulting in the recommendations in the report.
In addition, during these roundtable discussions, stakeholders were asked about other cities that do this better than New York City. Based on recommendations, several peer municipalities were consulted—including Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami—to identify their best practices and understand the streamlining efforts they have undertaken to their development processes.
In total, BLAST developed 111 recommendations to streamline the development process in New York City.
How will these recommendations be implemented?
In the months since the launch of BLAST, city agencies have already completed implementation of several improvements, with approximately half of the identified improvements to be implemented in the short term, over the next 12 months. Then most of the second half will be implemented in the longer term, generally over the next 12-24 months. And several major improvements—including those requiring ULURP review or major technology upgrades—may take up to 36 months to implement. In some cases, a quick and easy change may be implemented first, followed by a more significant and substantial change to the same process.
The method for implementing these 111 improvements varies:
- 91 can be implemented by city agencies through updates to technical manuals, other internal process
- changes, and new Agency initiatives.
- 3 require agency rule-making through the CAPA process.
- 4 are subject to the ULURP process—including approval by City Council.
- 11 require changes to local law or adopting new code—and approval by the City Council.
- 2 require rule-making by a State agency.
How can Equity help?
Our planning team stays on top of all New York City rules and regulations that will affect your development process. We have been following BLAST closely and will keep you up to date as these changes to CEQRA and ULURP are implemented.
If you are planning a development project and need guidance on navigating the multiple agency review process in New York City, contact Kevin Williams today to discuss your project. Kevin.email@example.com