Zoning controls what property owners can do with their land (such as build apartments or a factory) as well as how large buildings can be. When the Mayor or a developer wants to change the zoning, they must go through a public review process involving hearings at the Community Board, the Borough President, the City Planning Commission, and City Council. The Council has the final say in whether the zoning is changed.
The Landmarks Preservation Commission designates landmarks and historic districts. The Council can approve, modify, or disapprove the Commission’s decision. Once a building is “landmarked,” the owner must apply for permission to alter the façade, to build additions, or to demolish the building.
The sidewalk is public land. So when a restaurant, coffee shop, or bar wants to open a sidewalk café, the City must give its consent. The Council has the authority to hold a hearing and vote to approve sidewalk cafés.
City Land & Public Facilities
The City often buys, sells, or leases real estate for a specific purpose, such as building a new school, renting an office for an agency, or buying land upstate to protect the City’s water supply. Or the City might sell land to a business so they can expand and employ more people. Or the City might give land to a developer building affordable housing, often with tax exemptions that make the apartments even more affordable. When the City buys or sells land, or gives a tax exemption, the Council can approve or disapprove these actions.
Land Use Committee
The Council’s Land Use Committee has jurisdiction over all the types of actions listed above. The current Chair of the Land Use Committee is Council Member Rafael Salamanca Jr. The committee also has three subcommittees, each with its own Chair, that take care of specific sets of issues:
A rezoning, for instance, would be handled by the Zoning and Franchises subcommittee, while the designation of a landmark would be handled by the Landmarks, Public Siting, and Maritime Uses subcommittee.
The Land Use Division
The Council has a dedicated team of city planners, attorneys, and administrative staff that support Council Members and the Land Use Committee. This division helps the committee Chairs conduct hearings and analyze land use issues on behalf of Council Members.
Land Use Process
Step 1: Submission of Application to Council
Whenever any of the above actions takes place, the Council receives an application explaining the project. Council Members and staff then analyze the application and its potential consequences for the city as a whole, as well as for the local community.
Step 2: Council Hearing
When the Council receives a land use application, it’s referred to the appropriate subcommittee, which then holds a public hearing and votes on the application.
Step 3: Land Use Committee
After the subcommittee has heard and voted on the application, the Land Use Committee meets and votes on the application.
Step 4: Council Vote
The City Council will then hold a meeting with all 51 members and will vote on the application as a body.
Step 5: Mayoral Approval or Veto
The Mayor may either accept or veto the Council’s decision. However, the Council may override the Mayor’s veto with a 2/3 vote.