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Department of City Planning announces plan to streamline agency review of land use applications; said to save developers money and create jobs faster

A press release yesterday from the Department of City Planning was headlined DEPUTY MAYOR ROBERT K. STEEL ANNOUNCES PLANS TO STREAMLINE CITY’S LAND USE PROCESS: City Planning’s BluePRint Reforms Will Save Time, Money & Stimulate Economic Development:
June 21, 2012 – Deputy Mayor Robert K. Steel announced today an initiative by the Department of City Planning (DCP) to streamline the agency’s review of land use applications. As part of the Bloomberg Administration’s commitment to helping New Yorkers do business with the City and improve customer service, DCP’s Business Process Reform (BluePRint) simplifies and streamlines the City’s pre-certification process, creating predictability for applicants and allowing projects to enter ULURP, the City’s official public land use review process, more expeditiously. When BluePRint is fully implemented, DCP will be able to review the majority of all applications up to 50 percent faster than today, saving applicants time and money, and getting projects built and onto the city tax rolls sooner. The improved review process was developed in partnership with industry professionals and will be available to property owners and developers throughout the city beginning this July.
BluePRint will impact projects requiring discretionary approval by the City Planning Commission and City Council and focuses on the pre-certification review period – the time between an applicant’s first contact with DCP to the start of the formal public review of an application, known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or ULURP, which follows a charter mandated maximum seven-month “clock.” During the pre-certification period, DCP works with developers and property owners as they develop their land use proposals and engages in environmental and technical analysis of the applications required for ULURP review.
BluePRint will also benefit other city agencies who regularly apply for discretionary actions, speeding up the creation of affordable housing, economic development projects and open space. This comprehensive transformation of pre-certification includes the creation of a new review process involving fewer and more predictable steps, clear and published standard application material templates, improved coordination among specialized divisions and a tracking system to manage the overall pipeline of applications and measure performance. This initiative strengthens DCP’s role as an economic engine for the city while retaining the highest planning standards to ensure that New York City remains attractive and globally competitive.
Note that this all will happen before the process of seeking community input under ULURP. Also note that Atlantic Yards notably bypassed ULURP, since it proceeded under a state review process.

The benefits

Steel estimated the new program "will save applicants up to $100 million per year in soft costs and carrying costs," and thus "[m]ore development means more jobs for New Yorkers."

City Planning Director Amanda Burden said. “We have spearheaded zoning initiatives to create affordable housing, green the city, facilitate economic development and transportation options as well as new public open spaces throughout the five boroughs, and BluePRint will enable all these projects to be realized faster, without sacrificing high standards and careful review."

The press release contained praise from Councilman Leroy Comrie, chair of the Council's Land Use Committee; Real Estate Board of New York Chair Mary Ann Tighe; Rick Bell, Executive Director, American Institute of Architects New York Chapter; and Jerilyne Perine, Executive Director, Citizens Housing & Planning Council.

A raised eyebrow

Crain's columnist Greg David was enthusiastic, but commented that this had taken a while:
The city has a very clear process for zoning and approval of new projects governed by a very strict, seven-month timeline that follows the City Planning Department’s certification of a proposal. After is the key word there, because getting to the starting line usually takes years and is completely unpredictable, both in terms of cost and time.
Don’t get me wrong. While it is hard to tell how significant the changes announced by Deputy Mayor Robert Steel will be, anything that is done will be to the good.
Yet, this effort was originally announced more than three years ago by Mr. Steel’s predecessor, Robert Lieber.
And I'd add that, while it's surely wise to eliminate unwieldy process, this still focuses on facilitating individual projects and the Department of City Planning has focused on zoning, rather than comprehensive planning.

Pilot phase

Crain's reported:
In the pilot phase, five rezoning applications have used the new BluePRint system. Among them are the proposed expansion of St. Francis Prep High School in Fresh Meadows, Queens and a proposed mixed-use project at 515 W. 57th St., where the property owner wants to build a facility with a television studio, offices and residential units on land that is zoned for manufacturing and commercial.
"The application is moving along more smoothly than it might have in the past," said Paul Selver, partner at the law firm of Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel, who represents the owner of 515 W. 57th St. "By having standards the agency has the potential to significantly decrease the amount of time reviewing the details of the application."
Mr. Selver added that BluePRint requires applicants to pull together far more information up front. This may be a burden, but "it allows the agency to make decisions earlier and with more certainty," he said.

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