Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Thompson Objects to Department of Buildings’ Rule Change Regarding Public Input...

New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr. today in a letter to the Mayor and in testimony expressed his objections to the New York City Department of Buildings’ proposed rule change regarding public input on development projects.

In a letter to the Mayor, Thompson wrote: “This proposed rule change will severely restrict the publics participation in the City’s planning and development approval process.”

Currently, Department of Buildings’ (DOB) rules do not impose time limitations for the public to raise objections regarding the approval of a construction project. Instead, DOB plans to allow only 30 days for the public to register complaints about development projects.

Thompson was particularly disturbed by the fact that DOB’s rule change is expected to take effect on Monday, March 9th, forgoing the proper statutory period. “I am also deeply troubled by reports indicating that, under the guise of a ‘substantial need’ to implement the proposed rule change immediately, you have approved a waiver of the statutory 30-day period prior to the rule becoming effective,” he wrote. “This appears to be yet another attempt to stifle public participation in this process.”

Although this process may suggest a need for a better approach to address belated objections, the Department’s proposal fails to provide a reasonable time period for individuals to learn of pending development projects or to allow community boards to provide vital input,” Thompson continued. “DOB’s newly proposed approach will therefore inevitably favor developers at the expense of those living in the neighborhoods adjoining construction sites.”

Thompson recommended lengthening DOB’s proposed 30-day challenge period, creating a role for Community Board participation, and developing a community notification mechanism to allow the public to be aware of proposed developments and be able to register comments.

Thompson also registered his concerns by issuing testimony before a DOB meeting late Friday afternoon.

While forcing the public to closely monitor the DOB website and swiftly prepare detailed challenges, the proposed rules place no formal responsibility on DOB to prevent challenges from languishing indefinitely while potentially illegal construction continues,” Thompson said.

Subsequently, the DOB extended the comment period to mid-April and indicated that the rule changes would not take effect on March 9th.