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Council Speaker Corey Johnson rolled out a long-shot and long-range plan Wednesday aimed at breaking what he sees a New York City housing development logjam — a plan that would mandate development goals for each of the city’s 59 community districts and then let their individual boards determine where that housing could best fit.
The proposed overhaul comes just weeks after City Hall revealed that the construction of fewer than 200,000 new apartments and houses had been OK’d over the last decade, with Johnson noting the city has not built more than 200,000 new units of housing during any decade since the 1960s, something he aims to cure with this plan.
“This is streamlining the process, it’s creating coordination, it’s creating more transparency,” Johnson told reporters during a Wednesday press conference.
“Right now, it’s completely disjointed,” he added. “You have almost a dozen city agencies that work separately from each other on issues that impact land use, that impact planning, that impact the things that communities need and ask for on an annual basis.”
Johnson’s plan would attempt to unify the city’s long-term planning functions under a new commission with members appointed by the Mayor, Council and the borough presidents. The commission would set building targets for each community district, assess the infrastructure for jobs and transportation already there and determine what improvements are needed with or without new development.
Each community district would be required to approve up to three plans for new development that meet those requirements and the Council would be required to meld them into a single citywide plan. The next mayor would be able to impose a plan if the Council fails to ratify one.
Johnson, who like Mayor de Blasio is term limited and will be out of office after 2021, argues the new new plan would unify the city’s planning functions and speed development by effectively providing pre-approvals for time-consuming zoning and environmental reviews for new projects.
Under his legislation, the city would have until 2025 to craft its first version of the plan, which would have to be updated and amended in 2030 — a process that would repeat every 10 years afterward.
There aren’t many fans of New York’s highly balkanized and much-amended planning processes, which are driven by the Big Apple’s zoning code passed in 1961, historic preservation laws enacted that same decade and a neighborhood review process enacted in the 1970s.
Since the enactment of all of the laws and regulations, housing production in New York City has plunged.
The city built more than 300,000 new units of housing in the 1950s and 1960s, but has never exceeded more than 200,000 new units in a decade since then.
A report published by the Department of Housing, Preservation and Development in October revealed the city built more new housing during the Fear City-era of the 1970s than during the 2010s.
The new plan comes as Mayor Bill de Blasio finally pressed ahead with controversial plans to rezone the wealthy South and North of Houston Street neighborhoods in Lower Manhattan and to transform Brooklyn’s once-industrial Gowanus neighborhood into a new housing district.
And it comes after de Blasio abandoned plans to rezone Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood after fierce push back from local residents and progressive activists.
Critics offered a plan that would have further restricted new development across broad swaths of the neighborhood, confined new construction to a few major corridors and required that any new housing be subsidized — without allowing the construction of new market-rate units to help pay for it.
Activists argued that aiming new construction at neighborhoods like Bushwick was part of a pattern by the de Blasio administration of targeting new construction in working-class neighborhoods where there is often less organized opposition than wealthy white neighborhoods, like those on Manhattan’s East and West sides.
There, city preservation laws often make new construction difficult and locals can often raise the needed funds to turn any new project into a years-long court fight.
Johnson’s new plan received a cool reception from the other side of City Hall, where de Blasio spokesman Mitch Schwartz pointed out that a recent charter commission nixed a similar proposal.
“We’ll review the Speaker’s plan and work closely with the Council on creative, flexible ways to grow this city responsibly,” he added.
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