Bill Would Give More Bite to Community Boards’ Bark

Councilman Tony Avella is putting the final touches on a bill that would make community-based plans the framework for zoning regulations, land use, and development for every district in the five boroughs. He expects to formally introduce the bill to the City Council this summer.

Under the current system. community boards can submit development initiatives called 197a plans that “have no legal force whatsoever;" are often overlooked; and limit residents’ influence over the future shape of their neighborhood, according to Mr. Avella.

“The bill would allow each community, through the mechanism of the community board, to meet and develop a 197a plan… that would in effect become the planning document for the neighborhood,” Mr. Avella told The Observer Monday.

“Every neighborhood would put together its own plan that would go into the community document, the borough document, and the city document… It gives real power to every neighborhood so every citizen has a say in what happens.”

Mr. Avella said future construction projects would be bound by the 197a document or be required to submit an application to build outside regulations. He has been working since 2002 with the planning center task force led Eva Baron at the Municipal Arts Society to create a citywide, community-based planning framework modeled after similar programs in Seattle and Rochester, NY.

The legislation stems from a 2001 campaign to raise awareness about local city planning initiatives among the new crop of lawmakers on the City Council.

Since the proposed law is still being written up, Ms. Baron would not say whether each community board would be required to draft its own 197a plan or the extent to which the local plan would be the basis for land use and zoning regulations.

“It would make sure [community boards] get funding and ensure an automatic connection between 197a plan and city planning,” Ms. Baron said. As members of the communinity, she said developers will also contribute to 197a’s.

Ms. Baron told Brownstoner last week that the bill will also make sure the community board plans take the interests of the entire community into account.

The legislation has the potential to stop “any rezoning that goes through that wasn’t done at request of the community,” said Mr. Avella.

“The Columbia expansion is one example that was passed by the City Council in opposition to a 197a plan,” he said of rezoning plans that might have turned out differently. “Under this legislation it wouldn’t have gone through because it conflicts with the community board plan.”