In any development project requiring approval by the City Planning Commission, one of the most important issues is the length of time it takes to get through the environmental review process. Last year, in order to address timing issues in connection with the process, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) announced a program called "BluePRint,” which is a substantial reform to the department's administration of its environmental and land use review. The stated goal of BluePRint is to reduce the time that land use projects requiring discretionary approvals from the City Planning Commission will spend in "pre-certification" review under the City's Uniform Land Use Review Procedure or ULURP, and to simplify the pre-certification process. The "pre-certification" process is the period of time between the initial contact with DCP regarding a proposed project and "certification" - the official start of the City Planning Commission's formal review of a ULURP application and the time clock within which the City Planning Commission must complete its review and reject or approve the project. It is during the pre-certification period, where there are no time limits, when many requirements of the City's Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process are addressed, including the preparation of an Environmental Assessment Statement (EAS) and, if necessary, a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). BluePRint is intended to shorten the amount of time projects spend in pre-certification by clarifying and adding some measure of predictability to environmental and land use reviews.
DCP began implementing the BluePRint program on a voluntary basis in July 2012, but intends to formalize it through a rulemaking this year. Despite the fact that it is not yet an official rule, DCP is already following BluePRint for many development projects.
The BluePRint process begins with an informational interest meeting with the staff of the appropriate DCP borough office to discuss preliminary information about the project site and the applicant's proposed development. BluePRint specifies various documents that should be submitted in advance of the meeting, including but not limited official zoning and tax maps, photographs, and a land use map. After the informational meeting, the applicant will submit a Pre-Application Statement, which provides DCP with more information about the project, including the land use approvals needed, existing conditions on the project site, and information about the land use and zoning of the project site and within the surrounding area. The Pre-Application Statement also requests information that allows DCP to begin to define the scope of the CEQR environmental review and identify potential environmental impact areas. It also provides a formal starting point to the application review process and allows DCP to start tracking project progress. Following submission of the Pre-Application Statement, an interdivisional meeting with the entire project team, including members from DCP's Environmental Assessment Review Division (EARD), will be held to further discuss the project, the land use actions, and the scope of the environmental review.
In most cases, applicants will thereafter be required to submit to EARD a Reasonable Worst Case Development Scenario (RWCDS) memorandum, which will set forth all the assumptions the applicant will make in the EAS and, if necessary, the EIS, to assess the project's environmental impacts. Since the RWCDS memorandum establishes the framework for the environmental review of the project, it is an important strategic document. It is typically prepared by the environmental consultant, and requires input from the applicant, the architect and the applicant's environmental lawyer. A meeting with EARD will follow submission of the RWCDS memorandum so that any issues regarding the scope of the environmental review can be discussed and resolved.
Ultimately, EARD must formally sign off on the RWCDS memorandum before the EAS form can be prepared and submitted to EARD in draft. Thereafter, EARD will conduct a fatal flaw analysis of the EAS form to make sure EARD agrees with the analysis and the applicant's assumptions. At this point, the applicant must also submit to EARD any required technical memoranda outlining the applicant's underlying analysis assumptions and evaluation of environmental impacts, such as a transportation demand factors memorandum, or memoranda related to noise, air quality and construction impacts. After EARD has reviewed and signed off on all of these documents, the applicant can then formally file a full draft of the EAS for EARD review and comment. If the EAS does not identify any significant adverse environmental impacts, the CEQR review can be completed and the project can be certified, pending finalization of the land use application. If the EAS identifies the potential for any significant adverse environmental impacts, a draft EIS will be required before a project can be certified. While this CEQR review process is taking place, the applicant's land use application will reviewed by DCP on a parallel BluePRint track.