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NYC’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure

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New York City has a long history of rapid and sweeping infrastructural development and is easily one of the most infrastructurally complex cities in the world. NYC residents enjoy the benefits of a robust and multi-faceted city plan everyday. From its stunning bridges and expansive public transit systems to its many parks offering greenery and quiet citywide, NYC’s public developments make it a city unlike any other. Despite this, NYC’s long developmental history is also a contentious one. Sweeping developments changed the makeup and functionality of New York throughout the early 20th century, prompting frustrated New Yorkers to contest the unilateral decision-making process that spawned new developments, many of which were private.

Enter the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or ULURP. ULURP was the result of a 1975 city charter attempting to give New Yorkers a bigger voice in the developments rapidly occurring around them, ranging from massive manufacturing plants and office buildings to city-wide housing projects. Implemented in conjunction with newly-updated zoning resolutions, ULURP gave residents and local officials more latitude to better understand and react to the effects of developments in their communities. 

It is important to note, however, that ULURP only applies in cases where proposed developments are not in exact accordance with the city’s zoning regulations. These determine what can be built where and for what purpose, ensuring that city planning allows for sensible building arrangements and well functioning neighborhoods. Good city planning results in buildings uniform in scale, public transit systems which aren’t overburdened, and clean environments, among other things necessary for keeping the city’s neighborhoods healthy and functional. Developments that fall within the guidelines of these regulations are “of-right” and are not subject to ULURP. However, when developers seek exceptions to the rules–which is typically the case with major developments–they must go through this procedure; and this is where New Yorkers find their voice in the development process.  

How does ULURP give New Yorkers a voice? First, ULURP gives the public time to understand developments, to collate public support or opposition, and to influence local representative’s positions on developments. Moreover, it requires that irregular zoning developments go through a six-stage approval process that is heavily influenced by public input. The ULURP approval process typically takes a year and is thorough, a fact that has drawn the procedure criticism for slowing down purportedly vital developments. Developers seeking exceptions must first file an application with the Department of City Planning (DCP) in which they may have to submit an Environmental Impact Statement discussing the possible effects their development may have on the surrounding area. Then, the district’s community board reviews and votes on it, the borough president reviews it and recommends changes, and the City Planning Commission (CPC) either approves or vetoes the development. Finally, the City Council–lead by the council member whose district will host the development–passes a vote subject to mayoral veto which the council may overturn with a ? majority vote. 

In the course of this year-long approval process, each party reviewing the application takes the public’s opinion into significant consideration, giving New Yorkers actual sway over changes in their district’s city planning. ULURP is especially important now, as it affords New Yorkers a view of major, consequential developments–like the Hudson Yards project completed last year–that can prompt effective, and often fierce, community pushback. This can manifest in the form of protecting potentially harmed communities or in NIMBY scenarios, depending on the development and neighborhood. In any case, ULURP certainly requires that developers account for public opinion when seeking exceptions to zoning regulations, and thus democratizes the process of changing New York’s cityscape for better or worse.

 

Sources:

[1] – Spivack, Caroline, “What is ULURP, and why should I care? NYC’s land-use review process, explained,” Curbed New York, 22 Jan. 2020, https://ny.curbed.com/2020/1/22/21073049/nyc-zoning-ulurp-land-use-review-city-council, accessed 29 Oct. 2020.

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