By Orlando Lee Rodriguez
Experts say the role of government in private development is more partner than adversary, and like all partnerships, it has multiple jobs, from streamlining processes to creating checks and balances.
Either way, the relationship between government and private development is really nothing new.
“It goes way back,” said Rosemary Scanlon, divisional dean of the NYU Schack Institute of Real Estate, “New York for the longest time had zoning regulations. In the old days before they streamlined, you might have to have 14 permits. Years ago, when the River Café was built, all in all it took 14 years to get all of the permission.”
Since slightly before the formation of the five-borough New York City in 1898, a ‘Superintendent of Buildings’ position existed in Manhattan as part of the Fire Department after a series of tragic fires.
A city-wide buildings department was created in 1936, the same year the Department of City Planning was formed.
According to Scanlon, rules governing New York City land use in the post-modern era go back to around 1961 when the city planning commission was reformed around the same time that the city’s planning king, Robert Moses was forced to resign multiple commissioner posts by then Governor Rockefeller.
John E. Zuccotti, who served on the NYC Planning Commission in the post-Moses era, operated in a universe more concerned with the public good than personal grand visions. His understudies were trained to try and achieve this delicate balance of public concerns and developmental needs.
“I think starting off with John Zuccotti gave me a really good sense of being able to see both the private sector and the public sector perspective,” said Elise Wagner, partner in the Land Use Department at New York City law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel.
“You do not just see things from the view of your clients, but you see it from the point of view of the government and the people of the city. That allows you to be much more effective in obtaining results that are both helpful to your clients and are also appropriate in the context of the City of New York,” she said.
This public-private balancing mindset, it can be argued, was a precursor to the contemporary version of the public-private partnerships programs of today.
This month, President Obama highlighted these conjunctive processes as a way of getting things done during his State of the Union address.
More locally, mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn also outlined the role government can play in creating affordable housing.
Politics aside, the Bloomberg administration has also used its governmental position to help spur development through rezoning and Tax Increment Financing.
Either way, Scanlon said, government is a necessary component to development and will be here for the long term. “They are almost partners, right?” she said.
“I think everyone talks about public private partnerships, but the fact is that any type of real estate building activity in New York requires government approval.”