A Blueprint with Two Holes?

Eldad Gothelf, LEED AP Urban Planner, Herrick's Land Use Group | August 6, 2012 in Development,Planning,Zoning | Comments (0)

Earlier this year, the Department of City Planning unveiled the launch of their new Business Process Reform (i.e. BluePRint). Over the past 18 months, the Department worked with dozens of practitioners and stakeholders in the public review process to improve the way the private sector does business with City Planning. (Full Disclosure: several authors of this blog contributed to the effort.)

With the goal of improving the land use and environmental application review processes, the Department has standardized applications and the drawings, maps, attachments, and all other documentation associated with these applications. This is a huge step forward and will remove the second-guessing and seemingly endless revisions previously necessary to bring an application to the point of certification. Additionally, BluePRint aims to streamline the actual review of these documents to create a predictable and efficient pre-certification process. Again, bringing clarity to a previously unpredictable process will go a long way to improving the development process in New York City.

For a complete description of BluePRint, please see the Department’s explanation here.

In concept and in execution, we are optimistic about the all-around benefits anticipated from BluePRint. We believe in the Department’s sincerity at fixing what has been a long-standing problem. If the reforms are implemented and carried out as planned, all stakeholders – both in the public and private sector – will be better off.

That said, it appears that BluePRint has two major holes. First is the lack of the ability to file electronically. The Department says that electronic filing is anticipated as part of technology reforms estimated to be rolled out in 2015. Electronic filing is long overdue. In fact, much of the pre-certification process is conducted electronically. Electronic documents are sent back and forth between private applicant and City Planning staff people regularly, with comments made and changes incorporated. The only thing missing is the ability to officially file. While the need to develop an intake system is understood, the Department’s “customers” should not have to wait another three years for the beginnings of such a system.

The other – and more difficult, more substantial – issue left unaddressed by BluePRint is reform of ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure – the City’s public review process) itself. To be fair, BluePRint did not set out to reform the ULURP process and was never intended to do so. It is intended to improve the process leading up to ULURP. But repaving your driveway doesn’t make your house any better. In fact, it might then make its deficiencies that much more apparent.

And such is the case with BluePRint and ULURP. ULURP – a process where developers, community boards, and the public at large all have legitimate complaints – deserves a detailed review. Its deficiencies are known and can be improved upon.

These statements are made with the knowledge that reforming ULURP is a much grander task, as the City Charter would have to be amended. Such a process would require involving the Mayor and the City Council – hence politicizing the topic.

BluePRint was not designed to reform ULURP. And stating that ULURP needs reforming is not a condemnation of BluePRint. Conversely, the positive and desirable reforms being implemented as a result of BluePRint make these identified holes – lack of electronic filing and no change to ULURP itself – that much more obvious. The Department identifies the technology reforms as a responsibility of the next Administration. Let’s hope they act on it and consider tackling ULURP as well.

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