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MAS Supports Comprehensive Planning for NYC Waterfront

water taxi river sunset

MAS testified before the City Council’s Committee on Waterfronts yesterday in support of Intro. No. 809, a bill that would require the City Planning Commission to create a comprehensive waterfront plan every ten years. We believe that planning for the waterfront is of great importance to the future of the city, and that engaging communities in the planning process is critical to the success of a waterfront plan.

Intro. No. 809 offers an opportunity to balance the diversity of uses on the city’s waterfront and waterways so that our maritime industry prospers, waterfront development is appropriate and based on established priorities, maritime habitats are protected and improved, long term and irreversible environmental harm due to the effects of climate change are mitigated or prevented, and that through increased use of waterborne transportation, our carbon footprint is reduced.

Testimony of the Municipal Art Society Before the City Council’s Committee on Waterfronts on Intro. No. 809 – In relation to the City Planning Commission Thursday, September 25, 2008

MAS strongly supports Intro No. 809, which would require the City Planning Commission to create a comprehensive waterfront plan every ten years.

New York City’s 578 miles of shoreline provide a great opportunity to improve our public realm, sustain our maritime industry, and reduce our carbon footprint through decreasing our dependence on automobiles and trucks. For decades, the city’s waterfront was all but forgotten. Over the last ten years, a booming real estate market and improved water quality have made the waterfront a target for redevelopment, making possible a terrific new public realm on the city’s edge. At the same time, the Port of New York has experienced a resurgence in waterborne transportation, and increasingly plays a vital role in the region’s development providing thousands of jobs and generating billions of dollars in economic activity. Balancing this diversity of uses on the city’s waterfront and waterways requires comprehensive planning.

The City’s 1992 Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, is one of the most successful examples of comprehensive planning in the City’s recent history. The plan allowed New York to organize land use priorities as they related to the waterfront. Setting such priorities led to important policies, including the creation of wildlife habitats and the establishment of waterfront industrial business zones. Waterfront business zones, in turn, reinforced those policies. Future comprehensive waterfront plans provide opportunities to better link upland areas to plans for water uses.

Critical to the success of future plans is ensuring the active engagement of the many community and advocacy stakeholders whose waterfront knowledge and expertise can inform those plans. In preparation of future plans we encourage the adopted bill to require the City Planning Commission to actively seek the advice of stakeholders in the waterfront community including maritime businesses, environmental advocates, recreational groups and others. It is also an opportunity to determine whether citywide targets for the water established more than ten years ago have been met, whether the 197-a plan recommendations of waterfront communities have been met, and whether changing conditions require that the plan be amended.

MAS also believes that Intro 809’s call for the incorporation of an assessment of waterfront resources invites a closer study of environmental impacts on our city’s waterfront. Rising sea levels and the threats posed by heightened storm surge are significant environmental and municipal concerns, and factors contributing to those environmental threats must be incorporated into the SEQRA process. Renewing the waterfront plan to continue to reflect changing environmental impacts will serve to fortify the awareness of and strengthen advocacy to prevent long term and irreversible environmental harms. Moreover, the required statement of the planning policy, with attention paid to future development, will serve to inform a discussion of efficient water based transportation of persons and resources throughout New York City.

We support Into No. 809 because unless we actively plan for the future of our waterfront, our city’s greatest natural resource, we will surely squander it. As we plan our shoreline, it is critical to remember that New York City has a limited amount of this natural commodity. We must treat it as a non-renewable, natural resource, and be careful not to site something on the waterfront, like big box stores, that can go elsewhere in the city.

Finally, a comprehensive waterfront plan of the scope and quality of the 1992 plan can be a model for the City to begin preparing a comprehensive planning framework for the entire city.