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MTA may be granted unrestricted development rights in NYC

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Governor Cuomo’s November 28th deadline to ratify or disapprove a law that seeks to adhere zoning codes to MTA developments looms

The MTA may be able to push forward unfettered development on the agency’s 656 properties throughout New York City should Governor Cuomo not sign a bill into law that amends ambiguous text within the city’s 2016 budget.

State law has traditionally read that, for “transportation purposes,” the MTA doesn’t have to comply with local zoning ordinances; but the definition of “transportation purposes” got a hefty expansion in April when the state budget was passed with a tweak to how those words are defined. Under the new definition, it includes not only infrastructure for trains and buses but also other developments that will help cover their costs by providing revenue.

Now, local lawmakers are worried that the cash-strapped organization may take advantage of the ambiguity to lease development rights at the sites to developers. As a result, historic preservation groups the Municipal Arts Society and Historic Districts Council are calling for Governor Cuomo to ratify the law that would restore the initial meaning of the clause by its deadline of November 28.

Under the new definition of “transportation purposes,” MAS says that the MTA’s 656 New York City-owned properties, as well as other properties owned by MTA in Long Island and the Hudson River Valley, would be opened up to unchecked development with a diminished public review process.

This includes 221 sites that are zoned for residential use within the city like 40 Quay Street in Brooklyn and 1190 Second Avenue in Manhattan. A series of case studies by the institution illustrate how the MTA would be able to build in extreme excess of what zoning laws allow should they so choose.

But the MTA told the Wall Street Journal in June that “[t]he city’s interpretation is extreme and its concern is unwarranted” citing its track record of cooperating with the local government.

Because the bill to amend the text has passed the New York state Assembly and Senate, its definition has temporarily defaulted to its original meaning not including revenue-producing structures. But should Cuomo choose not to ratify the law, that language will revert to its new definition.

The Historic Districts Council calls the growth allowed under the new language “wrong and antithetical to how growth in New York is supposed to work,” with MAS referring to it as “a dangerous precedent.”

Should Cuomo ratify the law, the MTA will still be able to develop their properties, but will be beholden to local zoning laws.