Brooklyn Boro

Fast facts about ULURP

March 8, 2019 By Lore Croghan
ULURP hearings sometimes draw protesters. In this 2017 photo, Brooklynites give a thumbs-down to zoning changes proposed for Industry City in Sunset Park. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

Few bits of bureaucratic jargon are as ubiquitous in New York City reporting as ULURP — Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. It probably seems like every time you check your Brooklyn news feed, you see another ULURP story — and that’s because it’s all about development.

Whenever a developer wants to build bigger than local zoning allows, they need to go through this process, which can take a year or more. It’s also an important channel for community feedback, so knowing how it works and how to get involved is a city dweller’s edge in supporting or opposing a project in their neighborhood.

What’s ULURP for?

The ULURP process happens when developers want to construct buildings that are taller and bulkier than city zoning allows. Before they can put shovels into the ground, they must ask the city to change the zoning for their property.

Several New York City government entities scrutinize these proposals and pass judgment on them — and public input is legally required.

Another thing that triggers the ULURP process is a proposal from the Department of City Planning or a different city agency to change the zoning in an entire neighborhood.

Big drama can break out when neighborhood residents object to ULURP plans. There’s fiery testimony at public hearings. Community groups organize protests.

The ULURP process takes several months — and often upward of a year for larger projects.

We’ve synthesized our description of how it works with the help of materials from the DCP’s website and the “What is ULURP? Guidebook,” published by the Center for Urban Pedagogy.

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The center is a nonprofit that encourages underrepresented communities to get involved in urban-policy issues.

Who plays purely advisory roles?

The entity seeking zoning changes puts together a ULURP application with materials such as an environmental impact statement. An environmental impact statement isn’t quite what it sounds like — it’s not necessarily about the ecological impact of a project, but on its impact to the neighborhood such as traffic, sewage, utilities, residential displacement, local character, etc.

Often, developers make community board presentations about their zoning proposals before filing their applications. Residents can sound off at these meetings.

When neighborhood rezoning is proposed, DCP holds public hearings before the ULURP process begins.

New Yorkers who object to rezoning plans should step forward at this early stage of the game.

“The best way to have a real impact on a ULURP proposal is to be involved before there is an official proposal,” the Center for Urban Pedagogy’s guidebook says.

When DCP accepts the application, the ULURP process starts.

First, the community board in the ULURP project’s neighborhood reviews the proposal. It holds a public hearing, then decides whether to support the plan, oppose it or support it pending modifications.

A community board has no legal impact on the proposed rezoning. Its role is solely advisory.

The City Council member in the area often takes the board’s recommendation into account when making his or her decision about the proposal in question.

Second, the borough president makes a recommendation about the ULURP proposal — which is also purely advisory. He may hold a public hearing before making his decision.

Who’s got decision-making power for ULURP applications?

After advisement from the community board and the borough president, the City Planning Commission reviews the ULURP proposal and is required to hold a public hearing. Its vote is legally binding and determines whether it moves on to the City Council.

If cleared by the City Planning Commission, the City Council votes on all major ULURP matters. The council is legally obligated to hold a public hearing ahead of any vote.

It’s customary for City Council members to follow the lead of their colleague who represents the district where the rezoning would occur. This gives that council member significant leverage in negotiating with developers to get them to decrease the height and bulk of a project — at least a little bit — or increase the amount of affordable housing it will have.

If the mayor wishes to get involved, he has five days after the City Council’s vote to approve or veto the measure. The mayor is not legally required to pass judgment on ULURP matters.

If there is a mayoral veto, the City Council has to muster a two-thirds majority vote to override it.

How can I get involved in a ULURP project in my community?

There are several opportunities to get involved if you want to support or oppose a project, or simply want to know more about the plans.

The best way to learn about projects early in the process is to connect with your local community board and request to be on their mailing list — especially if they have a land use committee. Find your community board here.

Often, a development project’s backers will approach the board before filing an application. It’s a courtesy that helps engender goodwill, and it also provides the community an opportunity to flag significant concerns that could galvanize opposition.

DCP provides a great digital tool for residents to find ULURP projects in their neighborhood, and New Yorkers can find the ULURP public hearings schedule on its website and subscribe to an RSS feed.

Once you know about public hearings, you have the opportunity to show up or submit testimony directly to the City Planning Commission, an entity that has immense power over the project’s fate. Showing up with a sizable group of neighbors is one of the most effective tactics to support or oppose a project.

Another important chance to be heard is to reach out directly to the council member — or members — in whose district the project is located. You can find your representative here.

If you have any questions about ULURP that we didn’t answer, let us know in the comments below. You can also ask your community board or council member.

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