Legislation To Boost Community-Based Planning

197-a-0308.jpgA new law is going to be introduced to the City Council that may radically alter how planning initiatives like rezonings are undertaken in New York City. The legislation, which is a byproduct of the Municipal Arts Society’s longstanding Campaign for Community-Based Planning, will seek to extend the influence of 197-a plans, which are produced by communities in order to influence the shape of things to come in their neighborhoods. “Through extensive public outreach and community deliberation, 197-a plans establish a guide for city agencies to act by articulating a wide range of community priorities,” says Planning spokesperson Jennifer Torres. “Throughout the city…197-a plans have resulted in actions that reflect the community’s vision.” Be that as it may, in real life 197-a’s have zero legislative weight. “197-a has been flawed because it’s basically the city saying that neighborhoods can have a say in development but in fact it has no force of law,” says Queens Councilman Tony Avella, who will be one of the lawmakers introducing the bill. “A good example of this is that the Council recently voted to approve Columbia’s expansion, which contradicts the neighborhood’s 197-a.” (Brooklyn 197-a’s include those that have already been adopted for Red Hook, Williamsburg and Greenpoint, as well as one that’s in the works in Sunset Park.)

The legislation would “affect the whole constellation of city planning initiatives,” says Eve Baron, director of the Municipal Arts Society’s Planning Center. Baron says that “on paper, 197-a is great because it’s community-initiated and consensus driven” and “a way to say, “‘This is our vision for the future of the neighborhood, based on need and aspiration.'” The problem is not with 197-a’s intended purpose, she notes, but with its efficacy. “While it’s potentially a great tool, it’s ultimately only an advisory document,” she notes. Baron says the Campaign for Community-Based Planning also wants to right some of the perceived problems with 197-a, including the fact that there’s no central pool of funding available for neighborhoods to draw on when they want to develop them and that while 197-a’s tend to be driven by community boards, CBs may or may not represent all the interests in a given area. Avella says he’s ironing out the legalese in the bill now and hopes to introduce it to the Council by summer. “There’s going to be a fight over this since the real estate industry controls this town, and they’re not going to be happy about anything that might limit their ability to build and make money,” he says. “This’ll be a way to have planning happen from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.”
Campaign for Community-Based Planning [Municipal Arts Society]
197-a [NYC.gov]

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  • Please also check out the Campaign’s website/blog at http://www.communitybasedplanningnyc.org!

  • Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to give NIMBYs the force of law?

  • Yeah, although I feel like communities should take complete responsibility for what happens directly in their neighborhoods, the reality is that CBs are usually made up of a bunch of loud-mouthed control freaks — not the people who care about the community but the people who like to tell everyone what to do. And they’re a small group, powerhungry and totally unrepresentative of most of the people in the community.

    Perhaps this would change, if the stakes were higher; perhaps communities would feel inspired to get more involved, and we’d have a more balanced representation on a community board that includes people from public housing, people who have kids, people who are newcomers, hipsters, etc. . . But right now, I look at my community board and I just see a bunch of cranky old busybodies. If they had say in its development, they’d probably bring back gated communities to fort greene (where some streets used to have gates on them, for real), and certainly NO BIKE LANES!!!

  • “Doesn’t it seem like a bad idea to give NIMBYs the force of law?”

    Absolutely, but fortunately for the city, there are enough responsible grown-ups around to make sure this doesn’t happen.

    This is intended as a campaign document for Tony Avella’s mayoral run, nothing more.

  • Ah, zika, don’t you think it might be a good idea to be proactive rather than reactive. 197-a’s don’t necessarily keep any one party out of the planning process (especially if it is through a CB), so your so called NIMBYs could actually work with local developers/builders on a community based plan that might suit all parties, such as responsible planning for new higher density development areas and other areas that might stay low density or manufacturing. Voicing thoughts about improving infrastructure, preserving or creating greenspace, schools, etc.

    But that doesn’t fit well into your division-ist rhetoric, would it?

  • Really charming generalization, 10:43. Since you mention one specific community board (“my community board”) and you are posting anonymously anyway, how ’bout you tell us who you are referring to?

  • I agree with g_man, let’s hear which CB 10:43.

    Any Bklyn CB7 meetings I have been to have had a general cross section of the various neighborhoods in the district, demographics, race and…age.

    I’d rather see a bunch of so-called “busy bodies” that residents who sit on their hands, except when posting anon on blogs like this one.

  • q man, I wouldn’t want to put my family at risk.

  • It’s anonymous. Sure, someone could subpoena your IP address but I doubt seriously this will come to that. Come on; “man up” (even if your a gal).

  • I’ve been to my share of CB meetings (Brooklyn 1 and Manhattan 9). 197-a is a *disaster*. I’ve made this argument before, but the only purpose it serves is to provide a vent for the sort of outrage that gets guys like Tony Avella elected. Neighborhoods would vote themselves into stagnation and death if you let them. How long until every neighborhood in New York blocked every major development project? A week?

    You want this much local control? Look at suburban North Jersey, or Orange County NY. Infrastructure improvements never happen, because they can’t be coordinated between the disparate towns and townships and villages and what-have-you, and *nobody* wants a treatment plant in their neighborhood. NIMBY to the tenth power. Frankly, community boards should meet somewhere like Hawaii. The price of sending everybody away would be made up in new development and amenities.

  • “Frankly, community boards should meet somewhere like Hawaii. The price of sending everybody away would be made up in new development and amenities.”

    What? You have me stumped on that final comment Zach.

    Since when are CBs some how blocking new development (perhaps out of scale, but not NB) and certainly not new amenities (unless you count strip clubs and sex shops).

    Mr. B posted this a while back, but Bklyn CB7’s recently completed 197-a seems like a perfect example of how thoughtful planning might work if DCP is listening. http://bklyncb7197a.blogspot.com/

  • The needs of the community are only one aspect of a sound plan. You also need to take into account the needs for the city as a whole. If all planning were community based, then there would be no power plants, no waste transfer stations, no sewage treatment plans, no bus depots, etc. That’s why 197-a plans need to be advisory only. They are useful as an articulation of community desires and needs, but then those need to be balanced against city -wide initiatives and needs in order to craft a robust plan that will be good for the City as a whole.

  • I think it should be noted that one of the other pieces of this draft legislation is creation of a citywide planning framework, which would address the “fair share” issues that come into play here.

  • “the reality is that CBs are usually made up of a bunch of loud-mouthed control freaks”

    Exactly. The people who sign up to be involved on a community board are not the types to be open-minded and listen to everyone and have a balanced viewpoint that considers all needs of a community and the entire economy. People who join CB’s are control-freaks and are convinced they Know Better. The Know-Better people are a scourge of the planet. These are the people who do not listen to anybody or anything but their own emotions and subjective uneducated opinions. And who serve no needs but their own.

    This makes me shudder. This would be like turning all our neighborhoods into giant coops. YUCK. We all know what coop boards are like.

  • Zach, you write “I’ve been to my share of CB meetings (Brooklyn 1 and Manhattan 9). 197-a is a *disaster*.” I thought that the 197-a plans written by Brooklyn 1 were highly thought of and helpful in standing up to the Department of City Planning when it rezoned the waterfront. Am I wrong.

  • If they were highly thought of and helpful, 12:45, then they don’t need more power than they already have.

  • “they don’t need more power than they already have”

    1:15pm, who are you referring to? DCP or CBs?

    CBs are advisory only, remember that.

    And to 12:36pm’s “yuck” comment, you are correct…people SIGN UP and then APPOINTED (this is not a free for all) by local electeds and the Borough Pres. Generally they are folks that are thought of to be representative of the community and actively want to better their communities through the facilitation a Board can have through City Govt.

    So, I’m not getting your POV? Besides, any public or private entity can submit a 197-a plan to DCP. So let’s get back on point and away from the whole CB thing.

    Until someone can bring up something better (electeds or not), the 197-a option is at least a away for public input into what DCP may or may not due.

  • Hey, ActionJ, nice to see you outside Streetsblog. I think the trend in CBs for the last several years can basically be summed up by the word “downzoning”. While it’s not a bad thing to have community involvement, everyone will vote themselves parks and brownstones and single-family houses if you give them the option. There’s a trend to yell about “neighborhood character” and use it as a buzzword for anything more than one story taller than existing development. It’s a disaster for affordability to have the level of stasis that the CBs agitate for.

    g-man: That plan was before my time in the neighborhood, although yeah it’s not a bad one. But that plan was a compromise between the relentless community yells about massive affordable housing subsidies and Doctoroff’s whole “build everything everywhere” camp, right? Neither plan was very promising, and now the CB is angry about all the construction that followed the rezoning.

  • The smaller the buildings and less construction the fewer jobs there will be. Construction jobs are huge in providing income for a lot of New Yorkers. Also architects, interior designers, engineers, suppliers of the building materials, furniture manufacturers and retailers, craftspeople, plumbers, electricians, on and on and on. It’s these very revenues that give us such low property taxes. Do you REALLY want to pay $18,000 to $20,000 a year property taxes like they do in small downzoned NIMBY towns with no construction or manufacturing companies? How on earth does that provide affordable housing?

    It’s absurd to only ever think about aesthetics.

  • g_man, “helpful?” Yes, but the vision in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg 197-a plans is considerably different than what the Department of City Planning dumped on the neighborhoods.

    Zach, the 197-a plans pre-date the Bloomberg administration and the re-zoning.

    Action Jackson, the only entities that can propose 197-a plans are the mayor, City Planning Commission, Department of City Planning, borough president, and borough and community boards.

  • “Action Jackson, the only entities that can propose 197-a plans are the mayor, City Planning Commission, Department of City Planning, borough president, and borough and community boards.”

    I stand corrected. I meant to say private groups can submit Via the above venues.

    Zach, Streetsblog? Sorry, wrong dude, rarely read the thing, let alone post.

    Perhaps I have a twin out there in the blogosphere. That, or somewhat has sniped my handle.

    Send a link to a thread…

    And I can see your POV on “downzoning,” that’s why I have always called it “rezoning,” since sensible higher density is needed in the city.

  • ah the keyword here is “sensible”. No one could have conceived of just how much innappropriate development would be taking place. Nor how much greed would be driving development.

  • It’s all a big charade. You can all just flush those 11 years of well thought out planning down the toilet, cause the developers with the help of the city will trample all over those 256 pages.
    Unless we start asking for heads on a platter these slime (developers and bureaucrats alike) will continue to take us for a ride. Perfect example – While she was Boro Commissioner at DOB, Susan Hinkson allowed the total destruction of Brooklyn. What was her punishment? She was given a better job at the BSA. Where she now has the opportunity to push through all the illegal buildings that she allowed to start in the first place. She along with Lancaster should be in jail. Until we start treating people like the criminals that they are we are all just pawns in their game.