Herein is a glossary of the acronyms and technical terms used when talking about urban development in NYC. The glossary is organized around three topics:

Government Agencies   |   Zoning and Re-zoning Your Neighborhood   |   Affordable Housing 

Government Agencies

BSA: Board of Standards and Appeals

Responsible for approving or denying changes in land use as specified by the zoning classification; intention is to regulate development of private property. Public hearings required.  Insight: often has granted multiple variances of building and fire codes as well as zoning to influential property developers. Often the essential character of the neighborhood is altered and impaired.

DCP: Department of City Planning

The agency responsible for studying, developing, and implementing all aspects of zoning and land use. The Mayor appoints the Director who also chairs the City Planning Commission.  Zoning sets height and bulk limits and the uses (manufacturing, residential, etc) on buildings allowed to be built in a Zone. Insight:  Zoning changes in 2001, 2004, 2008 allowed larger buildings and higher density throughout LIC, thus paving the way for the residential boom which even DCP states was not anticipated and that resulted in the horrific density, lack of schools and open space. 

HPD: Housing Preservation & Development

Charged with promoting the construction and preservation of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents; administers Inclusionary Housing provisions; does some neighborhood planning with residents. Insight: controls various financial incentives exploited by developers.

FEMA: Federal Emergency Management Agency of the Department of Homeland Security

Involved with coordinating the federal government’s role with natural or man-made disasters. Insight: especially known for work arising from major storms and floods; their data are historical and floodplain maps do not account for climate disruption and rising sea level.

EDC: New York City Economic Development Corporation

Self- described as “the primary engine for economic development charged with leveraging the City’s assets to drive growth, create jobs, and improve quality of life.” As a corporation, its activities are not subject to review or oversight by any City agency or the City Council. Current proposed projects that affect us locally include the 44th Drive RFP, the Jackson Ave RFP, and the BQX. Insight: it has been long criticized as having a lack of transparency and accountability; caters to interests of large corporations; fails to accommodate neighborhood interests and needs.

DDC: Department of Design and Construction The City’s primary capital construction project manager and expediter responsible for many civic structures such as fire stations, police stations and libraries; also has responsibility for infrastructure including streets and sewers. Insight: a floodplain site, traded without community input by developers to gain greater bulk and height in a neighboring property, hosts the DDC-managed project of thus far $42M – the Queens Library Hunters Point branch. 

SCA: School Construction Authority

Responsible for planning, designing and building public schools Pre-K–12. and determining their feasibility. Insight: responds to requests from city government for schools; committed to “environmentally sound” school buildings. 

Zoning and Re-zoning of Your Neighborhood

For nearly two decades LIC has been subjected to a multiplicity of rezoning, usually at the instigation of developers. Originally a manufacturing and industrial area with significant mixed income housing, thanks to DCP it now is largely residential with many of the high rises exempt from the payment of real estate taxes for up to 35 years. With few exceptions, the increased population density occurred without commensurate improvements in the key infrastructure, including open space, public transportation and schools.

Zoning is the means by which city government encourages stability or change in land use. Specific classifications exist for manufacturing, commercial, mixed use, and residential.  Density of buildings is a key component in each district. Zoning maps exist and are subject to ULURP review.

Down Zoning is to change a zoning classification to achieve lower density or different use. Insight: a moratorium must be called for LIC immediately in order address the shocking deficiency of open space and threat from flooding due to sea level rise.

Density is the maximum number of dwelling units permitted on a zoning lot.

Incentive Zoning provides a bonus [usually greater height] in exchange for the provision of a public amenity or affordable housing. Insight: Citi building at Court Square received more floors for providing public space at ground level; unfortunately, awareness and accessibility remains inhibited due to failure to post signs and provide seating.

Open Space and OSR Open Space Ratio Areas unobstructed and open to the sky; the ratio is the amount of open space required, usually expressed as a percentage of the total floor area on the zoning lot. Insight: for much of LIC open space requirements were ignored. Even planting strips and similar streetscape improvements are non-existent.

Up zoning is the measure to change zoning and increase density. Insight: due to DCP’s zoning error in 2001, serious deficiencies exist in open space [next to the worst ratio of population density and open space in all NYC neighborhoods] and public schools.

Spot Zoning is where DCP changes zoning radically to achieve a goal.  Insight: This requires community input according to a specific formula and deadlines for written public comments for consideration of incorporation into the Scoping Document.

FAR    Floor Area Ratio is floor to area ratio calculations made by DCP or the Department of Buildings for controlling the size of buildings. Insight: The guidelines are on the DCP’s website. The BSA can, and frequently has, approved exceptions and variances.

CEQR City Environmental Quality Review is a state law governing the process of identifying and assessing the potential environmental impacts. Insight: often developers secure a negative declaration – no environmental impact – thereby eliminating the need for a comprehensive impact statement.

SEQRA State Environmental Quality Act deals with the environmental impacts of the proposed changes to zoning.

EIS Environmental Impact Statement required by DCP when an environmental review under CEQR guidelines established a positive declaration, thereby warranting the preparation of an EIS.

Scoping Document of DCP establishes the analyses and methodologies utilized to prepare the EIS. The Draft Scope of Work is supposed to identify the potential environmental impacts of a zoning change, within the context of city, state and federal environmental law and regulations.

ULURP   Uniform Land Use Review Procedure enables the public participation concerning proposed zoning map alterations; a strict time frame dictates the review process. Insight: public participation is of limited significance because the key documents [e.g., Scope document] define what’s included and amendments are not feasible after the final date to submit objections, recommendations or requests [e.g., broader environmental impact statement].

Waterfront Area is adjacent to a body of water and governed by specific requirements in design, amenities and size. Insight: of critical importance given the dearth of open space and parks; design should include specific measures to absorb flood waters and storm surges.

WRP Waterfront Revitalization Program

If a property is within the coastal zone, it may be subject to review if subject to rezoning, environmental permit, or city, state or federal capital project.

WAP Waterfront Access Plan considers the current specific conditions and attempts to shape the buildings’ scale and public access requirements. Developers must build and maintain public access. Insight:  for the proposed East River developments, these access points will likely provide the lowest elevations, thereby allowing flood waters to flow into streets to the east and south. Provision of floodgates at least 15’ in height should be required.

Affordable Housing

A problematic and highly politicized concern in LIC because of the absence of rental apartments that are affordable for the current population. In course of the rapid transformation of housing stock over the decade, gentrification best characterizes the outcome with a sharply reduced affordability for low and moderate incomes. At least 50% of Queens population falls below the base income required to qualify for the various subsidized housing programs.

AMI Area Median Income is the means by which HPD uses to calculate affordable housing.  Rates and sunset clauses (e.g., the affordable housing disappears at Hunters Point South in 20 years) are negotiated separately for every development.  Non-profit developers set much more accessible AMIs than do for-profit developers. Insight: the lack of transparency by developers is legion. Deals with the City usually result in the displacement of residents or the unaffordability for others seeking housing

MIH Mandatory Inclusionary Housing is the amount of affordable housing a new development negotiates to provide. In NYC 20-30% is often required for which developers extract huge concessions, increasing the bulk of buildings and securing tax exemptions. Insight: the tax exemptions alone make this process economically precarious; the tax burden is shifted to remaining property owners further pushing gentrification as property owners are forced out and developers purchase more land.

PILOT Payment in Lieu of Taxes exempts properties from real estate tax and can be structured many ways, usually negotiated with EDC or the City’s Industrial Development Agency. Insight: questionable whether the loss of the tax revenue normally due is made up by the PILOT or the economic value of the property’s use.

421-a A State tax break to developers to build bigger buildings under the guise of providing a negotiated proportion as affordable housing. The provisions vary with each passage of this legislation; currently such properties pay no real estate tax for 35 years. Insight: given that 45% of the City’s budget comes from real estate taxes, having thousands of luxury buildings tax exempt is not sustainable. Remaining property owners must make up the difference, often forcing them to sell because the real estate taxes due. Outcome: increased gentrification, more racially segregated neighborhoods and a lack of diversity. 

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