Keystone Crossroads: Could NYC teach Pa. cities something about limiting the Council members’ power in development decisions?

New York City’s process for land use decisions brings in groups outside of Council to weigh in. Should Pennsylvania cities try this? 

In 1975, the City of New York passed a new City Charter which, among other things, changed how land use decisions,  i.e. development plans, were made. The new process — called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP — was designed to collect public input, if not necessarily be required to implement it, and restrained Council’s power in land use decisions. ULURP’s standard method for reviewing land use plans requires that each plan go through the public, the Community Board, the Borough President and Borough Board, the City Planning Commission, City Council, and the Mayor.

Things are a little different in Philadelphia.

According to a new Pew report, in Philadelphia individual council members, representing geographical districts throughout the city, make land use decisions. It’s called councilmanic prerogative. And while critics contend that it limits government accountability and transparency and favors the politically connected, council members says it’s only right they should have sway over projects in their districts since they know their areas and constituents best.

For land use decisions in Pittsburgh, the report says, “council members often show deference to the representatives of a particular district, but that deference is not absolute.” However, when establishing a land bank in the city last year, council members fought to retain veto power over land sales in their districts (that power will be reevaluated after two years).

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