The Charter Revision Commission, as predicted, has decided to pass on major changes to the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedures for this year. But political nature abhors a vacuum and City Council Brad Lander may try to fill it.
Since his election last November to the Brooklyn Council seat previously held by Public Advocate Bill DiBlasio, Brad Lander has established himself as among the more influential of the new Members. He was alread known to many of the Members for his advocacy of reform of the 421-a tax incentive program for new residential development, and upon entering the Council, helped organize a new Progressive Caucus which he co-chairs. Reflecting both his planning experience and his political savvy, Lander was named to chair the important Land Use Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting & Maritime Uses. In addition to oversight of the Landmarks Preservation Commission (and their designations), the subcommittee reviews decisions about where to locate City services from new courthouses to sewage treatments plants to City offices. Sooner or later, almost every commissioner will find themselves in need of his nod.
Recently, he told a group of planning professionals from the Institute for Urban Design that he was looking at land use areas of the City Charter which the Council could amend without having to go through a public referendum. Under the law, the Council can make changes to the Charter (such as extending the terms limits law) that don’t "diminish" the Mayor’s power, sometimes referred to as the balance of power. If the charge does infringe, such a a requirement to submit commissioners’ appointments to the Council for advice and consent, it can only be done by referendum.
I followed up with him and he outlined three areas of interest, two of which are under his committee’s jurisdiction. The first is "fair share" a provision which in theory obligates the City to consider the cumulative impact of siting decisions on a particular community. The second is Section 197-a of the Charter which authorizes community boards to sponsor their own non-binding neighborhood plans. Both have been criticized as being without teeth and the Environmental Justice Alliance(.pdf) has been campaigning for them to be strengthened. The 197-a portion would fall under Mark Weprin’s Zoning subcommittee.
The other area of interest is the designation of landmarks and historic districts. Currently, a property is "calendared" in the discretion of the Commission. Once calendared, any significant alterations are delayed by the Buildings Department to give LPC a chance to decide if it wants to go through with designation. That can complicate development and financing for owners, who express frustration that such calandaring may have occurred decades earlier. Advocates, on the other hand, are dissatified that they can’t always get an up or down vote on what they consider important buildings. Lander will use his subcommittee’s oversight authority to try and put more transparency and structure to the process.