New Yorkers have too many worries at the moment, perhaps, to think about urban planning. But the breakdown of the city’s land-use process should loom large for all of us.
Last week brought the news that Industry City, an applicant for a zoning change in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is considering withdrawing its application and pursuing investments that stay within the limits of its existing outdated zoning, unchanged since 1961.
Industry City is making this choice after unsuccessfully negotiating with Carlos Menchaca, the local councilman, over conditions to secure his support. Councilmember support is seen as a necessary precondition to full City Council approval, required by the City Charter.
Such developments threaten the city’s future.
Ever since the creation of the modern city in 1898, Gotham has relied on real-estate investment to create jobs, raise revenue and grow housing stock. But in a high-regulation town, growth doesn’t just happen. The land-use-approval process needs to allow it.
When that process fails, the city can’t grow and change — including in response to a crisis like the one we’re in now. Real estate could lead the Big Apple out of the COVID-19 recession, especially with interest rates at rock bottom. Yet if proposals can’t get through the process, the downturn will last longer; the city will be less competitive in the future.
Eric Kober is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He retired in 2017 as director of housing, economic and infrastructure planning at the New York City Department of City Planning. Follow him on Twitter here.
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