Voice of Gowanus: Our August 2020 Letter to City Planning Challenging Virtual ULURP
August 4, 2020
Chair Marisa Lago City Planning Commission New York City
Dear Chair Marisa Lago:
Many in our Brooklyn community are concerned that the city’s land use process is set to re-open without adequate consideration of existing land use law. Together our group of concerned independent community members calls upon the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission to cease any further consideration of the proposed Gowanus rezoning-and any other New York City-led neighborhood rezonings-until conditions permit holding safe, large-scale, in-person public hearings. This pause must include holding off on certifying any City-led neighborhood rezoning.
Any further actions undertaken by the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission to certify the proposed Gowanus rezoning this month that would lead to so-called “virtual” Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) public hearings starting in September—a civic process that has never before been carried out “virtually” in any previous New York City-led neighborhood rezoning—would constitute a violation of ULURP.
“Virtual” ULURP hearings would not be uniform in light of what the law requires. The city charter provision regarding ULURP procedures requires that public hearings for ULURP at the community board level occur in a physical location (as does the provision about borough president hearings during ULURP):
“A community board public hearing shall be held at a convenient place of public assembly chosen by the board and located within its community district. If in the community board's judgment there is no suitable and convenient place within the community district, the hearing shall be held at a centrally located place of public assembly within the borough.”
Given the in-person civic process other communities have been afforded to date when facing neighborhood rezonings, “virtual” ULURP hearings would unfairly undercut the procedural rights of community members in greater Gowanus and any other neighborhood facing a rezoning, and would prevent them from holding their elected and appointed officials accountable.
The virtual hearings and practices recently rushed into use by other City agencies indicate that, especially in the context of ULURP for an entire neighborhood, attendees’ collective power would be severely diluted through the use of an online platform. Equitable access to technological devices and high-speed internet is simply presumed by the City but a resourced plan has not been offered or executed to ensure access for all community members. Structurally diluting a community’s ability to hold power accountable during the current Covid-19 crisis, when the future of our entire neighborhood and its interconnected communities is at stake, is unacceptable. It does not conform to the letter or the spirit of what ULURP requires; even if more individuals could theoretically participate in “virtual” hearings, community power to confront politicians collectively in a room is blunted by an internet-only process. We urge you in the strongest possible terms to abandon plans for this illegitimate and illegal “virtual” ULURP process that will effectively deprive our community members of their due process rights.
Please also find enclosed an Op-Ed co-authored by State Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon published in yesterday’s edition of City Limits that details further the widespread community concerns regarding “virtual” ULURP hearings and any certification that would lead to such hearings.
Voice of Gowanus