Monday, June 24, 2013

Filling City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden's shoes? It should be a question in the mayoral race, but there's been little discussion

For those following the mayoral race, there have been numerous debates and forums, with much discussion of issues like stop-and-frisk, education policy, and even a highly controversial Jewish circumcision practice.

But there hasn't been much discussion--on a more granular level--of development, which is a crucial issue for a major interest group, the real estate industry, and its allies, and for the city at large.

After all, as the Times reported last month, a new political action committee, Jobs for New York, was formed by a "group of real estate executives and corporate leaders, bracing for the departure of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg... to spend up to $10 million to make sure the City Council elected this fall is friendly to business."

Amanda Burden: big shoes to fill?

So one of the big questions, which Crain's New York Business put on the agenda 5/17/13, is Who will fill Amanda Burden's shoes? New York's real estate community is already handicapping the race to replace the dynamic City Planning Commissioner, who will step down when Mayor Michael Bloomberg's term ends.

As the voice of business, Crain's would of course focus on the "real estate community" and its posture. And that makes sense: as numerous critics have observed, the Department of City Planning has more to do with rezoning than planning, which itself is steered by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. (That's another appointment to look at.)

Bloomberg did change one important aspect of the balance. Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, told Crain's, "Before, it was standard practice not to initiate a zoning change unless a developer was willing to pay for it." That's because the rezonings--including upzonings that increase development rights and downzonings that no developer would pay for--have been far more sweeping.

Who's on the list?

Crain's reported:
Names being floated by the real estate community include Vishaan Chakrabarti, a former city planner and current director of Columbia University's Center for Urban Real Estate and a partner at SHoP Architects; Regina Myer, a former city planner and current president of Brooklyn Bridge Park; and Anna Levin, a city planning commissioner, former community board chairman.
Chakrabarti's Center recently released a report calling for more dense development along the waterfront and major roads like Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens Boulevard.

Levin is seen as relatively "more attuned to community concerns," according to Crain's, while Myer "has received accolades for her work on Brooklyn Bridge Park," though has used non-union labor.

Of course the decision depends on who's elected Mayor, and Michelle de la Uz, the representative on the City Planning Commission appointed by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, had apparently lost a place on his list because she voted against zoning changes on Roosevelt Island for a new technology campus. (You'd think such independence would have its value, especially since she explained her vote thoroughly.)

Other names floated include land use lawyers Ed Wallace and Melinda Katz, the latter a former Council member running for Queens Borough President.

Management skill most important?

Mitchell Moss, an urban policy professor at New York University and a former Bloomberg advisor, told Crain's, "You get the job because you know how to manage and operate," not "because you're smart."

Unmentioned: you get the job because you're loyal. Consider Burden's warmth toward plans like Atlantic Yards and skepticism of Madison Square Garden.

But whatever the reason: Burden's replacement will be the face of development in New York City in the next mayoral administration, and that matters.

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