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January 7, 2021

Stroock Client Alert

By: Ross F. Moskowitz, Ashley E. Doukas, John B. Egnatios-Beene, Raymond "Rusty" Pomeroy II, Eva C. Schneider

As 2021 begins — which also marks the final year of the de Blasio administration, as well as the end of the terms of nearly 70% of City Council members — there are myriad land use initiatives that are being prioritized by the executive and legislative branches of NYC government.

In this Client Alert, we highlight three important land use actions, all of which have significant dates in January: (1) the Gowanus Rezoning, which is set to be certified on January 19, 2021 and will begin the public review process thereafter; (2) the City-Wide Hotel Special Permit, which has its scoping meeting on January 22, 2021; and (3) the proposed racial disparity report requirement (Intro. 1572-A), which is scheduled to be introduced to the City Council on January 11, 2021.
 

1. The Gowanus Rezoning Proposal (the “Gowanus Rezoning”) is a City-Sponsored rezoning by the New York City Department of City Planning (“DCP”), set to be certified and enter the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (“ULURP”) on January 19, 2021.[1] The Gowanus Rezoning is a robust land use application and Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) that proposes to rezone the existing manufacturing zoning district in the areas surrounding the Gowanus Canal to allow for residential, commercial and community facility uses while also preserving certain manufacturing areas. The goals of the Gowanus Rezoning are to create permanently affordable housing, provide diverse job opportunities, build new schools, parks and other community resources, and provide stabilization and sustainability along the shoreline. If certified in January, the final approval for the Gowanus Rezoning would foreseeably occur in late summer of 2021.

The proposed Gowanus Rezoning is expected to have new zoning text detailing the new proposed zoning districts, special district, waterfront special purpose district, a new Waterfront Access Plan, and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing requirements.  Importantly, for the goals of the Gowanus Rezoning to be fully realized, certain private applications, investments and actions will be necessary prior to development. For instance, such private actions include Waterfront Certifications and transit improvements and easements.

2. The City-Wide Hotel Special Permit (the “Hotel Special Permit”) is a City-Sponsored proposed zoning text amendment by DCP that would establish a  new special permit requirement under the jurisdiction of the City Planning Commission for new hotels, motels, tourist cabins, and boatels in C1, C2, C4, C5, C6, C8, and Mixed-Use (MX) and paired M1/R districts. A positive declaration was issued in December 2020 warranting the preparation of an EIS. A draft scope of work for the EIS has been distributed for public review and can be found here (https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/applicants/scoping-documents.page) with the public scoping meeting scheduled for Friday, January 22, 2021 at 2:00 pm. Transient hotels are currently allowed as-of-right in the above-referenced zoning districts, with some limitations. The proposed zoning text would require a special permit for new and enlarged transient hotels. It would also replace existing Hotel Special Permit text in certain special districts, such as the East Midtown special permit for hotels, thereby creating a consistent, uniform Hotel Special Permit.

To address the loss of inventory and the impact on the hotel industry due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DCP is proposing to evaluate changes to discontinuance provisions for existing commercial hotels in all zoning districts citywide so as to allow for hotels that are currently closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep their legal transient use status until after demand recovers. As stated in DCP’s scoping documents, their objective is to allow hotels that are closed on the date of enactment to retain the transient use as-of-right until after demand recovers.

3. Proposed Intro. 1572-A seeks to amend the City Charter to require a “racial disparity report” for certain land use applications.  Per the text of Proposed Intro. 1572-A, a racial disparity report would be required for land use applications that involve at least four adjacent blocks and propose to increase permitted floor area by at least 50,000 sq. ft. or propose a conversion of use of at least 50,000 sq. ft. 

The racial disparity report would be required to include the following:  (1) existing demographic, social, economic and housing conditions within one-half mile radius of the project area; (2) trends in neighborhood racial and ethnic composition and social and economic indicators for the past 20 years; (3) for projects with residential floor area, a statement of the projected rent amounts for all units and analysis of corresponding household incomes needed to afford these units without incurring rent burden; (4) for projects with commercial floor area, an analysis of projected industry sectors and occupations, number of jobs in each sector or occupation, median wage levels, and an analysis of the racial and ethnic composition of households working in those sectors or occupations at a citywide level and within one-half mile of the project area; (5) for projects with community facility projects, an analysis of the population expected to be served and a demographic analysis of households by racial and ethnic composition, age, household income, education, and other relevant factors at the citywide level and within one-half mile of the project area; and (6) identification of potential measures that can address identified disparities or displacement, including, but not limited to, certificate of no harassment protections, right to counsel protections, workforce development programs or other programs and policies that would achieve greater racial and ethnic equity. 

The introduction of this bill was likely catalyzed by the arguments made against certain recent rezonings, which assert that they accelerate and compound displacement of residents. Most recently, opposition to the Inwood Rezoning argued up to the NYS Court of Appeals that the EIS failed to examine how the rezoning would impact demographics, residential displacement, and minority-owned businesses, among others. The court ultimately ruled that the Inwood Rezoning could go forward because it met the current environmental review standards set by the city and state (CEQR and SEQRA, respectively); however, the court suggested that a legislative change was ultimately what the plaintiffs sought.

The bill is scheduled to be introduced at the City Council land use meeting on January 11, 2021. 

The SoHo/NoHo Rezoning plan is another controversial, land use priority for the current administration. The SoHo/NoHo Rezoning seeks to expand affordable housing opportunities in the area, allow for a wider range of commercial uses to provide flexibility for job generating industries, support live-work and arts/cultural spaces, and guide building shapes and sizes so that they enhance the historic character of the neighborhood. DCP formulated a neighborhood plan and held its scoping meeting on December 3, 2020. While no dates are set and the zoning proposal has not been released, according to DCP’s website, the SoHo/NoHo Rezoning is expected to enter ULURP for formal public review in 2021.

Throughout the development of the Gowanus Rezoning, the Hotel Special Permit, SoHo/NoHo Rezoning and City Council changes to the Charter, the Stroock Land Use and Environmental Team will be diligently following the public hearings, providing testimony and written comments, as necessary, and updating clients on timing, changes in the zoning, political climate, and likelihood of success. 

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For More Information:

Ross F. Moskowitz

John B. Egnatios-Beene

Raymond "Rusty" N. Pomeroy II

Ashley E. Doukas

Eva C. Schneider

[1] ULURP is a statutory five-to-seven month process that requires review and advisory recommendations by the community board and Borough President, review and vote by the City Planning Commission and review and vote by the City Council.

This Stroock publication offers general information and should not be taken or used as legal advice for specific situations, which depend on the evaluation of precise factual circumstances. Please note that Stroock does not undertake to update its publications after their publication date to reflect subsequent developments. This Stroock publication may contain attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.