A bill to force a stricter review process for development at the Upper West Side's Frederick Douglass Houses and other city housing projects is stalled in the State Senate.
Under the current law, the New York City Housing Authority is free to move forward with its plans to build three market rate apartment towers at Frederick Douglass Houses without city approval. The housing agency only needs approval from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The NYCHA Real Property Public Review Act would force the agency to go through the approval process most other city agencies and private developers face, the Uniform Land Use Review Policy, which requires a major environmental study and a city council vote.
Although the bill passed the State Assembly 107-34 on June 17, it was not brought up for a vote in the Senate during its legislative session, which ended last month. Unless a special session is called, the earliest the bill could be voted on is in January, when the session restarts.
At several public hearings, Frederick Douglass residents have strongly objected to the prospect of new apartment towers, arguing that the development would be bad for locals and that the agency has not been transparent.
Assembly member Keith Wright, the bill's sponsor and the chair of the housing committee, said the bill would help give residents a voice. If passed, it might also convince NYCHA to drop the development plan, which Wright said was bad for New York.
“It's a bad idea, it's bad policy, and will create a Tale of Two Cities,” Wright, who represents Harlem, said.
But Wright said that the bill—which received the vote of all Assembly members representing the city and the entire Democratic conference—had little chance of approval in the Senate, which is controlled by a coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats.
It might not even be called for a vote at all—Senate Majority Leaders Dean Skelos, a Republican, and Jeffrey Klein, an independent Democrat, have not said whether they will bring it to the Senate floor.
Klein and Skelos declined to comment on the bill.
Wright, the co-chair of the state democratic party, said that support for the development plan from Mayor Michael Bloomberg hurts the bill's chances.
“The Senate does not usually like to go against the wishes of the mayor,” Wright, the co-chair of the state democratic party, said.
Assembly member Daniel O'Donnell, a co-sponsor of the bill, said NYCHA needed to be more transparent.
“I think it's a very good bill, and it's a long-overdue bill,” O'Donnell, who represents Morningside Heights, said. “It brings NYCHA into the 21st century.”
But O'Donnell agreed it would be difficult for the bill to pass the Senate.
“It's my hope that Senator Klein would take up the bill to protect his residents who live in NYCHA housing,” O'Donnell said.
State Senator Adriano Espaillat, the ranking member of the housing committee and a co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said in a statement that he would work to get the bill passed when the session restarts.
“NYCHA's residents deserve to have their voices heard,” Espaillat, who represents Upper Manhattan, said. “Submitting NYCHA's plan through ULURP will shine the spotlight on the problems our city's public housing supply is facing, and will produce a better end result for everyone.”
NYCHA declined to comment on the bill.
Local leaders are also supporting another broader bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal and State Senator José M. Serrano, that would require ULURP not just for NYCHA but also for the Department of Education, the Education Construction Fund, and the School Construction Authority, which proposed demolishing two Upper West Side public schools this year before backing down. The bill has not come up for a vote in the Assembly or Senate.
Community Board 7's housing committee and youth, education and libraries committee passed a joint resolution supporting that bill, and the full board will vote on it Tuesday.
“Requiring NYCHA to go through ULURP is a commonsense strategy that will force NYCHA to conduct future development proposals in the light of day,” Community Board 7 housing committee co-chair Nick Prigo said.
Eva Kalikoff contributed reporting.
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