Opinion: New 25-Story Buildings May Avoid Environmental Reviews

Opinion: New 25-Story Buildings May Avoid Environmental Reviews

By Alicia Boyd

In December of 2023, the Department of City Planning proposed a new change in the law regarding the development of towers in the community. The proposal called “Green Fast Track,” would allow any developer who wants to build a 25-story building with less than 250 apartments to avoid conducting an environmental review.  The law would allow such buildings to be classified as a Type II with some exemptions, including if the development is located in a landmark district, or next to a park (not a playground).

Many people are concerned that allowing such large buildings into the community without an environmental review would set in motion the complete erosion of disclosure laws, especially when there is already a history of occurrences by developers to mislead and avoid current standards. By reducing these standards even more, one could almost expect there would not be environmental reviews for many development projects being built in NYC.

The main justification the city has stated for this change is that it will save time and money, but in fact, the current laws take into consideration time and money but at the same time, demands that development conduct an environmental review to ensure that any potential danger to the public would be known.

When the DCP conducted a study of the results of the Environmental Assessment Statements (EAS) of 407 applications, 19 applications showed that harm to the environment would occur, thus requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) which is a more thorough, costly and time consuming environmental review.  Another 13 applications had to engage in conditional remediation not to have to conduct an EIS. Not one application had a 25-story building with 250 or less apartments. Only three applications had between 175 and 250 apartments. As a result of this study, DCP determined that buildings that are 25 stories (250 ft) or less with 250 or less apartments should be classified as a Type II and not have to perform any type of environmental review.

However, my community group, the Movement To Protect the People, has found that many developers do not disclose the correct figures during the application process.

When residents filed a lawsuit to stop a proposed 17- and 19-story towers with 390 apartments bordering the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, we found through the EAS that the developers underestimated the number of apartments to avoid an EIS, showing that over 589 apartments, not the 390 as stated were going to be built via three towers instead of two. The EIS would have required the developers to address sewage infrastructure support.

After almost three years and several million dollars later, Judge Reginald A. Boddie determined in a 29-page decision that the city failed to conduct a proper EIS and declared the new zoning void.

However, when the developers filed an appeal, they won the case, allowing them to build three towers with 589 residential units.

Just like this case, developers can do this again and again: declare a project to have less than 250 apartments, avoid any type of environmental review, and once they get approval they can change the numbers to build twice as many or even more apartments.

Additionally, just a few years ago, the city passed into the law the need for developers to conduct racial impacts studies when building in low- to moderate-income communities of color. This is a result of the gentrification that occurs with the introduction of luxury apartments into communities of color. With the proposed Type II designation change, the racial impact study will be worthless, because Type II projects won’t have to conduct any type of environmental review.

I believe the adoption of the Fast Green Track proposal will take away our right to know what is happening in our community and is meant to disempower us.

I urge everyone to attend the New York City Planning Commission’s hearing on the Green Fast Track Amendment on Wednesday, February 7 at 10 am.  You can attend in person at 120 Broadway in Manhattan or go to this website an hour before the hearing and sign up to register: https://cpchearing.nyc.gov/Pages/Guest/SpeakerSignIn

The City Council will also schedule a hearing on this issue sometime in early Spring.

Alicia Boyd is a community activist, educator and Prose Litigant (non-attorney who files lawsuits). Her group the Movement to Protect the People “MTOPP” has been around for over a decade educating and fighting against oversized development. MTOPP was instrumental in protecting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden from the largest development project planned for Brooklyn. They also prevented a massive district-wide rezoning proposal. Ms. Boyd is a lifelong Brooklynite and her group members reside in Crown Heights/Flatbush. Ms. Boyd can be reached at (718) 703-3086, and her website www.mtopp.org contains both written and short information videos on these subjects. 

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