by Paul Graziano
New York State is facing an existential crisis – and it’s completely the fault of its own politicians.
One month ago, Governor Kathy Hochul made vague and somewhat ominous statements in her 2022 State of the State televised speech about housing policy, stating that she would “fix outdated land use laws that hold back housing supply” and that “transit-oriented development” was also part of her overall housing strategy for New York State.
Unfortunately, the devil is in the details, which were fleshed out in the actual State of the State Report and subsequent legislation submitted by the Governor. For the first time in living memory, the Executive Branch of New York State is proposing to dictate land use and zoning laws in a blanket fashion across the state, abrogating “home rule” everywhere. This action is sticking a thumb in the eye of local governments and representatives, who tend to understand how best to plan for present and future development challenges and opportunities.
The first bill, sold as the solution for the lack of affordable housing in New York’s cities, towns and villages, calls for requiring every single-family zone from Buffalo to Montauk to allow at least one additional accessory dwelling unit, or ADUs, on each individual lot. If adopted, this will effectively eliminate one-family zoning in New York State.
Additionally, this bill requires New York City to give total amnesty to the tens of thousands of illegal conversions which have been created by unscrupulous property owners over the past three decades – units which are market rate; of substandard construction; and, as Hurricane Ida recently proved, sometimes deadly.
The second bill focuses on transit-oriented development, or TODs, which is a planning strategy to increase density in areas within theoretical walking distance of train stations. While Governor Hochul seemed to describe a partnership and incentivized approach with affected communities in the State of the State Report, with a promise to “foster multifamily construction in zones drawn by municipalities around rail transit stops,” her actual legislation calls for mandatory increases in density – to the tune of a minimum of 25 units per acre – on every residentially zoned parcel of land within a half mile of each Long Island Railroad, Metro North and Amtrak station.
As word has spread Statewide about Governor Hochul’s actions during the past few weeks – and other similar bills introduced by State Senators Peter Harckham and Brad Hoylman, and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein – the shock and anger among local elected officials, residents and property owners has been palpable; the response has been overwhelmingly and adamantly in opposition to what they see as a power grab of epic proportions which may violate the “home rule” provisions of the State Constitution.
If Governor Hochul’s legislation – quietly (and cynically) inserted into the budget several weeks ago due to its overwhelming unpopularity – somehow passes and is made into law, the political fallout will be devastating.
More than 12 million people – over 60% of the population of New York – will be directly affected by these actions; their infrastructural concerns like schools, roads, water and sewers, are often given short shrift – at best – and are not spelled out or funded by the Governor’s bills. The orgy of speculative development that will follow, with local governments unable to intervene, will destabilize all of New York State.
And, as recriminations follow and the citizenry either vote with their feet or turn out the current crop of elected officials in response, much handwringing will occur by the political class, wondering how they got it so wrong.
In a game of political chicken like this, one thing is for certain: everyone loses.
Paul Graziano is an urban planning, land use and zoning consultant and the principal of Associated Cultural Resource Consultants.
TRANSIT ORIENTED DEVELOPMENTS (TODs) HAVE BECOME A POPULAR WAY TO CREATE DENSITY AROUND AND WITHIN PROXIMITY OF COMMUTER RAIL STATIONS THROUGHOUT NEW YORK STATE. WHEN TODs ARE DEVELOPED WITH COMMUNITY BUY-IN AND APPROVAL FROM LOCAL GOVERNMENT, THEY TEND TO BE SUCCESSFUL.
IN GOVERNOR KATHY HOCHUL’S TELEVISED STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS, TODs WERE INCLUDED IN A TWO SENTENCE STATEMENT: “WE’LL FIX OUTDATED LAND USE LAWS THAT HOLD BACK HOUSING SUPPLY. WE’LL ENCOURAGE TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT AND THE CONVERSION OF HOTELS AND OFFICES TO HOUSING IS ALSO PART OF OUR HOUSING STRATEGY.”
THIS VAGUE LANGUAGE WAS FOLLOWED BY A PARAGRAPH IN THE STATE OF THE STATE REPORT: “TO SPUR TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT, GOVERNOR HOCHUL WILL PROPOSE LEGISLATION TO FOSTER MULTIFAMILY CONSTRUCTION IN ZONES DRAWN BY MUNICIPALITIES AROUND RAIL TRANSIT STOPS WITHIN DISTANCE TO NEW YORK CITY. THE STATE WILL PROVIDE ASSISTANCE TO MUNICIPALITIES FOR DRAFTING ORDINANCE CHANGES, EASING THE BURDEN ON SMALLER MUNICIPALITIES.”
WHILE THIS STATEMENT SEEMS TO IMPLY THAT THE STATE WILL WORK WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENTS IN A COOPERATIVE FASHION, THE ACTUAL LEGISLATION – S8006/A9006, PART EE – WILL TAKE AWAY HOME RULE, SIMILAR TO GOVERNOR HOCHUL’S LEGISLATION TO ELIMINATE ONE-FAMILY ZONING STATEWIDE (PART AA).
IN SHORT, GOVERNOR HOCHUL LIED.
EVERY VILLAGE, TOWN AND CITY WILL BE REQUIRED TO CHANGE THE ZONING WITHIN 1⁄2 MILE OF A RAIL STATION – INCLUDING THE LONG ISLAND RAIL ROAD, METRO NORTH AND AMTRAK – TO ALLOW AT LEAST 25 UNITS/ACRE.
THIS LEGISLATION WILL NOT FOSTER MULTIFAMILY CONSTRUCTION IN ZONES DRAWN BY MUNICIPALITIES; IT WILL FORCE THE CREATION OF MULTIFAMILY ZONING ON EVERY VILLAGE, TOWN AND CITY IN NEW YORK STATE, WHETHER THEY WANT IT OR NOT.
TAKING AWAY LOCAL DECISION-MAKING ON LAND USE ISSUES AND FORCING COMMUNITIES TO INCREASE DENSITY – WHETHER THROUGH A STATEWIDE ELIMINATION OF ONE-FAMILY ZONING OR MANDATING DENSITY NEAR EVERY TRAIN STATION OR COMMUTER PARKING LOT – WILL NOT ONLY DO DIRECT HARM TO PROPERTY OWNERS AND RESIDENTS, BUT WILL DESTROY HOME RULE, DAMAGE DEMOCRACY AND VIOLATE THE NEW YORK STATE CONSTITUTION.
SAY “NO” TO KATHY HOCHUL’S TOD DEVELOPMENT SCHEME & PROTECT NY STATE!