Environmental Justice and the Inwood Rezoning Decision

October 1, 2020

Author: Equity Environmental Engineering

How quickly we went from blazing hot days to the cool of autumn. As we continue to deal with the New Normal, we wish you the best of luck in dealing with virtual school, juggling that with work schedules, and maintaining your sanity. Before you know it, we'll be pulling out the rakes and leaf blowers. Take the time to enjoy the beautiful fall colors.

Let's all keep our fingers crossed that a vaccine for COVID–19 comes soon.


Environmental Leadership Award 

For the second time, Equity Environmental Engineering was given an Environmental Leadership Award by Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey (CIANJ). Equity submitted a project for consideration which highlighted our leadership in bringing a stream restoration project where we teamed with Trout Scapes River Restorations LLC on a project to remove a partial dam dating to the 1800s which was causing erosion and sedimentation problems on the Lamington River. The erosion had gotten so bad that it threatened a road that crossed the river and some neighboring properties. The team was involved in the design, permitting, and construction necessary to remove the dam, create vernal pools for flood mitigation, re-directing the river channel, forming fish habitat, and creating flood storage area in the old river channel. The project team included: federal and state government, non-profit, and private company stakeholders. Photos of this project are shown below.

From CIANJ: 

Protecting the environment has become part of the fabric of how businesses operate. Reducing waste, conserving energy, protecting our water and air are not only good for our quality of life but good for business. Awards were given by CIANJ and COMMERCE Magazine, which were dedicated to recognizing the extraordinary efforts to help the environment. Award winners were recognized in a special issue of COMMERCE Magazine, showcasing the environmental leadership taken by the business community.

Awards were given for extraordinary efforts in each of these categories:

  • Recycling/Pollution Prevention Programs
  • Green Building Design/Solar Investments
  • Environmental/Energy Conservation (Water, Plants, Animals)
  • Community Impact/Employee Participation
  • Process/Manufacturing Innovations
  • “Green” Leadership (Top Executive, CEO, Managing Partner, etc.)
  • Brownfield Redevelopment

Image shows a man in a hi-vis vest that reads equity environmental engineering overseeing work on a dam

A group of men standing near an excavator


Environmental Justice and the Inwood Rezoning Decision

 

Environmental Justice Efforts in New Jersey and New York

Following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, and the start of subsequent protests throughout the country demanding an end to systemic racism there has been a regulatory response from New Jersey and New York on the issue of environmental justice with efforts to bolster protection measures for vulnerable communities that tend to be low-income and communities of color. Future projects by private developers and municipalities should be cognizant of emerging regulatory and policy guidance during planning and project feasibility stages of development.

On June 19, 2020, New Jersey Governor Murphy announced his office’s support for Senate Bill S232, which would require the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) to evaluate the environmental and public health impacts on overburdened communities when reviewing permit applications for certain types of facilities. The facilities that are the subject of this new bill include: 

  • major sources of air pollution (i.e. gas fired power plants and cogeneration facilities); 
  • resource recovery facilities or incinerators; 
  • sludge processing facilities; 
  • recycling facilities; 
  • sewage treatment plants with a capacity of more than 50 million gallons per day; 
  • transfer stations or solid waste facilities; 
  • recycling facilities that receive at least 100 tons of recyclable materials per day;
  • scrap metal facilities; 
  • landfills; or 
  • medical waste incinerators

S232 defines an overburdened community as one where 35 percent of the households qualify as low-income according to the U.S. Census, (2) 40 percent of the households are a minority, (3) or 40 percent of households have limited English proficiency. Governor Murphy’s office has identified 310 municipalities with overburdened communities that have a total population of approximately 4,489,000.

On June 23, 2020, the New York State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) made more than $10.6 million available to help underserved New Yorkers access clean, affordable, and reliable solar energy. This investment represents the first step in the state’s first step in implementing New York’s Social Energy Equity Framework. NYSERDA’s solar financing program follows the approval of a $573 million expansion of the NY-Sun Program by the New York Public Service Commission (NYPSC) that includes a total of $200 million that is projected to help activities focused on low- and moderate-income New Yorkers, affordable housing, environmental justice, and disadvantaged communities. The recent financing programs announced by the NYPSC and NYSERDA are intended to advance Governor Cuomo’s goal of installing 6,000 megawatts of distributed solar by 2025, which was adopted by the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) that was signed into law on July 18, 2019. The CLCPA was enacted to adopt measures that put the state on a path to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050 and net-zero emissions in all sectors of the economy.

As a company focused on assisting in the development of high-quality, sustainable projects we are committed to coordinating with our clients to better understand, adapt, and respond to changes in the regulatory landscape. As a firm that stewards projects through environmental due diligence and regulatory approvals for discretionary and as-of-right development, Equity Environmental Engineering understands the importance and impact of these recent commitments made by New Jersey and New York in healing and protecting communities of color that have historically been less protected from industrial uses and experienced limited access to high-quality housing. We encourage our clients and partners to reach out and discuss with us how to consider and develop appropriate plans in response to New Jersey’s Senate Bill S232 and the expanded financing opportunities provided in New York in future projects as efforts sought to address environmental justice and encouraging sustainable development in low income and minority communities.

Inwood Rezoning Decision

On Thursday, July 23, 2020, a state appeals court reversed the ruling by the Supreme Court for the State of New York in the case of Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale v. City of New York that was decided on December 16, 2019. In the December ruling, the court found flaws in how the City responded to comments on socioeconomic impacts submitted during the public review phase of the environmental review process. Furthermore, the December 2019 court opinion prepared by Justice Verna Saunders, found that the City (1) had failed to take a “hard look” at those comments submitted by Unified Inwood (a constituent organization of Northern Manhattan is Not for Sale) on the Draft Scope of Work and Draft Environmental Impact Statement that included:

  • the impact of the rezoning on preferential rents and on fostering or increasing residential displacement;
  • the racial impact of rezoning/residential displacement; 
  • the impact of the rezoning on minority and women-owned businesses; 
  • the deviation between predictions on the impact of prior rezoning and actual results;
  • the social impact of the loss of the community’s library;
  • the impact of the rezoning on emergency response times/responses times of the first responders;
  • the cumulative impacts of the rezoning and other major land-use events impacting the community;
  • the speculative purchases of residential buildings in Inwood preceding and coincident to the rezoning.

(2) Justice Saunders had found that the City’s rationale for not providing what the court and petitioners believe to be an adequate response to Unified Inwood’s comments was inconsistent with the understanding of the role that the City of New York’s City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) Technical Manual plays as a guidance document rather than one that requires strict compliance and precludes consideration of comments or areas of analysis outside the scope of its methodology. 

In the decision by the appeals court on July 23rd, the 5-0 ruling found that the City Council “acted properly, and consistently” in approving the Inwood rezoning because “under the proposed rezoning, various protections would be instituted to assuage the housing squeeze that Inwood residents were experiencing and would continue to experience without any intervention.” The appeals court also noted that although some of the petitioners' comments were not specifically addressed “it was not unreasonable for the City to determine that those issues were beyond the scope of SEQRA/CEQR review pursuant to the CEQR Technical Manual, did not result in a significant adverse impact, or were based on speculation and hypotheticals and therefore did not warrant further review".

As this most recent ruling was a unanimous decision, it is not anticipated that this case would be appealed to New York State Court of Appeals as the petitioners must be granted permission by the court to do so

The impact of this recent appeals court decision is quite significant for developers and environmental review firms as it confirms the scope of the environmental review process within the guidance provided under SEQRA and CEQR, which may not consider the potential negative externalities associated with a single discretionary action or cumulative actions. While we understand that this decision confirms the level of analysis required under State and City regulations, Equity Environmental Engineering is committed to ensuring a thorough analysis of the socio-economic impacts from future development in communities of color and will advise our clients in considering these impacts in future proposals. It should be noted that there are currently calls from a number of elected officials and public interest groups in NYC to more directly address gentrification as a part of the CEQR process that governs environmental review of rezonings and other discretionary actions. Our newsletter will provide continued coverage of these considerations and other matters as they affect the ability to plan and develop for New York City.

For more information, please contact Alex McClain or Kevin Williams at 973-527-7451.


ULURP

On July 15, 2020, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the city’s uniform land use review process (ULURP) will start up again after having been suspended in mid-March because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The City Planning Commission (CPC) began holding meetings virtually on Monday, August 3rd starting with its first review session. This was followed by a public meeting on August 5th. The meetings that were scheduled in August are not only for ULURP projects that were already in the public review process prior to the suspension of in-person meetings on March 16th but also for projects with actions not subject to the ULURP process.

It was also announced by City Hall that the ULURP process (that is generally expected to last one year) would not officially be allowed to continue until September. Furthermore, the ULURP process is planned to be staggered in order to ensure that New York City’s 59 community boards follow the ULURP timeline while avoiding in-person meetings during the summer months. The City has also indicated that time will need to be afforded to DCP (Department of City Planning) in order to train community boards on how to host remote public meetings.

As a part of NYC’s restart of the ULURP process, DCP is expected to post public draft agendas of upcoming meetings to the DCP website days before meetings take place. The protocol for CPC meetings will require meeting a quorum and residents will need to sign-in to testify as they would for in-person meetings. The city’s new website NYC Engage will allow city residents to view and speak during public meetings.  

For additional information, please contact Kevin Williams or Alex McClain at 973-527-7451.


New York State DECInfo Locator

The DEC recently announced new upgrades and functionality for the online DECinfo Locator tool that provides enhanced access to DEC documents and public data about the environment and outdoor recreation resources. DECinfo Locator, a first-of-its-kind platform to make information about New York's environment accessible to everyone, generates results specific to locations across the state, including water and air permits, enforcement actions, recreational assets, environmental education facilities, and sites in the State Superfund and Brownfield Cleanup programs.

DECinfo Locator lets users see and download permits, former industrial site cleanup plans, water quality reports, and more based on where they live, work, or play. Selecting a map feature can bring up links to database records for petroleum bulk storage facilities, oil wells, or permitted mines. Users can also view Environmental Justice areas and Climate Smart Communities or find out what local wastewater facilities are doing to reduce their impact on New York's waterbodies. In addition, multiple information layers can be active simultaneously, allowing users to see the many ways DEC is working to protect and enhance New York's environment and recreational opportunities.

The following is a link to the DECInfo Locator: https://www.dec.ny.gov/press/121144.html

Share Article:

©2021 Equity Environmental Engineering