Burden on Charter Revision: Don’t Change Rezoning Process

amanda burden Burden on Charter Revision: Don’t Change Rezoning ProcessLooks like the Bloomberg administration, currently updating the city charter, may leave its land-use approval process untouched.

Amanda Burden, chairwoman of the City Planning Commission and the administration’s empress of all things zoning, said last night that she does not want to see the seven-month review process changed. 

Speaking on a panel on the land use policies of Mayor John Lindsay (we’re having something of a Lindsay moment right now), Ms. Burden was asked about her thoughts  on the Charter Revision Commission.

“Some people think that ULURP takes way too long; half the people think it’s way too short; and that means it’s probably just about right,” she said. “I think we definitely should make sure we don’t mess with things that aren’t broken.”

While many good ideas will come out of the commission, she added, “changing the ULURP process doesn’t seem to be one that really makes sense.”

The strong statement suggests that the commission, which is controlled by mayoral appointees, will indeed leave the rezoning process alone. Developers have long pushed for a shorter process, and community boards have worried that their voices would be marginalized by any change. (There is a revision commission panel tonight that will discuss land use matters.)

The current process certainly is an incubator for debate — community groups and activists have a long time to organize and make their positions heard. Community boards have two months before they give a non-binding recommendation, often with multiple hearings and discussions on a project. Then the borough president’s office has another month, with a hearing, before issuing its own recommendation. Then the City Planning Commission has time to issue its own binding decision, and then the City Council must vote for or against a plan.

On the other hand, one of ULURP’s main failures is that the biggest decisions about a real estate development have already been made by the time the process begins, and the changes that tend to come within ULURP never involve a complete reshaping of the proposed development. Rather, developers tend to ask for tall and dense buildings that are often scaled back before the City Council votes for a project. Very few projects are outright rejected.

ebrown@observer.com