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Add Deed Restriction Changes to Intense Land Use Review Process, Pols Say

 Councilwoman Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter to the city on Friday.
Councilwoman Chin and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter to the city on Friday.
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DNAinfo/Allegra Hobbs

LOWER EAST SIDE — Local politicians say the city should make developers looking to modify deed restrictions go through the city’s thorough, months-long process for reviewing proposed zoning changes — a change they say is needed to prevent more community facilities from being turned into luxury condos after the loss of Rivington House.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilwoman Margaret Chin on Tuesday penned a letter to the City Planning Commission asking officials to subject any deed restriction changes to the city’s Uniform Land Review Procedure (ULURP), which the letter calls “the city’s gold standard of public review.”

The officials argue that the current review process around properties saddled with deed restrictions is lax and unstructured, pointing to the Department of Investigation’s damning report on the city’s lifting of the deed restriction on Rivington House — a former nursing home for HIV/AIDS patients that is now slated for a luxury condo conversion after the city lifted a deed restriction that would have kept it a nonprofit healthcare facility.

The investigation revealed a "complete lack of accountability" and "significant communication failures" throughout the city's process for modifying deed restrictions, according to the report, which states that city officials within the Department of Citywide Administrative Services knew the owners of Rivington House were considering a luxury condo conversion before lifting the deed restriction.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, days before the release of the DOI’s report, unveiled a series of changes to the city’s current process of handling modifications to deed restrictions aimed at increasing transparency and oversight during the process. Community members said the changes were "not enough," and have continued to call for the return of Rivington House to the community — a demand the city has refused to address.

Chin and Brewer — who gathered on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday — say the changes are a step in the right direction, but insufficient. 

“We lost Rivington House because the deed restriction change was managed by the wrong agencies in a bad process,” said Brewer in a statement. “The best way to fix this is to handle these land use changes the same tried-and-true way we’ve handed other meaningful land use changes for years, with transparency and public input.”

The ULURP process — required for developments calling for major land use changes, such as zoning changes and the sale of city-owned property — is a painstaking, multilayered procedure that requires a project go through several stages of approval from both community and government bodies before a developer gets the green light.

Applications submitted to ULURP must meet the approval of the local community board, the Borough President’s office and the Borough Board, the City Planning Commission, City Council, and the mayor himself — the entire approval process, explained in this chart via the city’s website, takes around seven months.

The Department of City Planning directed DNAinfo New York to the mayor’s office.

A spokesman for the mayor’s office declined to comment on Chin and Brewer’s request, but reiterated the mayor’s commitment to improving the process of reviewing modifications. 

“The Mayor’s instituting a series of reforms aimed at overhauling a broken, decades-old modification process,” said Eric Phillips. “Our focus is on making sure these reforms deliver for local communities.”