How City of Yes will destroy outer borough neighborhoods.

April 8th, 2024

RE: City of Yes for Economic Opportunity (N 240010 ZRY & N240011 ZRY)

My name is Paul Graziano and I am an urban planning, land use and zoning consultant retained by the Queens Civic Congress, a non-profit umbrella organization representing the interests of dozens of civic and homeowner associations in Queens County. I am also working with dozens of other civic and homeowner organizations across New York City, including other umbrella organizations such as Staten Island Civics United (S.I.C.U.), the Protect Bronx Neighborhoods From Overdevelopment coalition, the Joint Community Council of Southeast Brooklyn and many others.

During the past three decades, I have authored, co-designed or advised upon several zoning designations (R2A, R1-2A and R5D); advised on the scope, design adoption of the Yards Text Amendment; and designed or co-designed most of the contextual rezonings that occurred in Queens from 2005 to 2013.

Based on my long experience of interaction with the Department of City Planning (DCP), it is clear that the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity (CoYEO) is built on a series of false premises, described in muddled rhetoric – not fact – as evident in the public materials and communications made at Community Board and civic meetings from November 2023 to February 2024. During this time, I personally witnessed this during presentations at a dozen Community Boards in Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx where I also was giving presentations explaining what was actually being proposed in CoYEO, as DCP was not.

My personal observations were as follows:

– Most DCP staff were woefully unprepared and lacked basic knowledge and understanding of this set of proposals. In almost every meeting, I had to correct them on the details of what they were presenting.

– Many DCP staffers were reading woodenly off of pre-printed pages while showing slides with very little information. These slides, with “soft-lens” pictures and one-sentence descriptions are extremely misleading. They were very different than the slides that Chair Garodnick presented at the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing on April 8th, 2024, which had much more detail and were closer to the actual intent of the proposed zoning text. The examples given also represented the most harmless examples possible (for example, bicycle repair shops vs. bicycle sales) which are unrealistic in terms of what New Yorkers should expect.

– When asked pertinent on-topic and critically important questions by the Community Board members or public about various aspects of the 18 proposals, there were numerous instances of DCP staff being unable to respond at all, with statements like “we will have the get back to you” or “that’s the limit of my knowledge” or “we weren’t trained in this” – all as the land use committees or full boards were encouraged to vote as soon as possible on the complex package of 18 proposals in front of them.

– In multiple instances, staff were extremely rude, combative, dismissive, disrespectful and downright aggressive with community board members and the public who disagreed with the deregulatory goals and negative outcomes of this proposal, which was essentially authored by the biggest developers and business groups in the city to benefit them, not small businesses or local communities.

– Multiple Community Boards stated that they liked 1 or 2 of the 18 proposals and requested that they withdraw the entire package and come back with individual proposals. The response from DCP was “that’s not going to happen.”

From a personal perspective, in a number of instances where I presented at Community Boards in opposition to this proposal, I was literally shouted down by certain staffers while I was speaking. In one instance, I was told by one of the most senior staffers at DCP involved in the Economic Opportunity text that my opposition to this proposal was “unproductive” and “against democracy” – extremely disturbing statements coming from an agency representing the public viewpoint and agenda of Mayor Adams’ administration.

It is telling that at the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee hearing, Chair Garodnick gave the Councilmembers a touch more deference with additional information that the DCP did not give to Community Boards or the general public.

Regardless of the support for this zoning package from real estate and commercial interests, the vast majority of residents, property owners and voters are in opposition to most of the included proposals.

Attached to this testimony, I have included deep analysis specifically on Proposals #15 and 16 – 15,000 sf of commercial on 1.5 acres or more and corner commercial in residential areas – and how they would affect communities throughout the city. The very fact that the CPC would want to take away the decision-making power of the City Council by bypassing them in the approvals process on these proposals (as well as #17) should be of great concern. It is also possible that it violates the City Charter, as a zoning change remains within the scope of a ULURP action, not a discretionary authorization, and would immediately leave the city open to legal challenges. In addition, contrary to what DCP has stated publicly, the intertwining of the Economic and Housing Opportunity portions of City of Yes are evident based upon how the proposed increases in Floor Area Ratio (FAR), height and the lowering of the Dwelling Unit Factor (DUF) will increase housing density while encouraging commercial development at ground level in currently lower-density residential neighborhoods, changing them radically (not just “a little more housing in every neighborhood” as Mayor Adams has stated).

Proposal #11 – expansion of commercial use of primary residences – is equally disturbing. Our downtown commercial cores and neighborhood strips are in crisis due to a high vacancy rate. Expanding business use with up to 3 employees (along with encouraging the commercialization of residential neighborhoods with Proposals #15 and 16) is contrary to revitalization of these areas.

Proposal #1 – allowing expired legal non-conforming commercial uses to reactivate – should only be allowed with a special permit process and must be approved only for the same certificate of occupancy, not allow any business use in the future.

In summary, a “one size fits all” approach to any of these proposals will have extremely negative consequences, particularly for lower-density neighborhoods across the city. The “dumbing down” of our unique and complex city of 500 different neighborhoods through deregulatory zoning “reforms” that allow anything everywhere is a recipe for disaster for New Yorkers. Taking a “transformational” approach as per the Adams administration will do nothing more than turn our city upside down, benefiting only developers and speculators at the expense of our citizenry.

I urge the City Council to reject the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity in its entirety with the caveat that, should there be communities that believe that certain proposals will benefit their specific neighborhoods, then those proposals should be rewritten so that they can be mapped locally, not across the entire city.

Submitted by:

Paul Graziano, Principal

Associated Cultural Resource Consultants