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Builders to feel cuts at NYC Planning Dept.

Builders to feel cuts at NYC Planning Dept.

While they were spared drastic cuts proposed by the New York City Council, the Department of City Planning will be working at a reduced capacity due to staff layoffs and a smaller budget.

The cuts, according to some industry insiders, will make it more difficult for builders to receive zoning variances, and in the long run, affect the city's property tax revenue.

According to Martha Ritter, head of public affairs for the New York City Planning Department and the Planning Commission, the department will still be reviewing applications and planning but they will be doing so "slowly" and on a "priority basis."

"We don't have one spare body," said Ritter.

Ritter said the department experienced 18 layoffs in February, 14 more in June, and will feel 18 more as of September. These reductions represent 50 employees out of 400. She said the department had a budget last year of $23.5 million and this year they have $18.4 million, which includes the $1.2 million cut outlined in the recent budget.

The original cuts suggested by the council would have reduced the agency by 40 percent, according to Ritter. This idea was "unbelievable," Ritter said. "That would have essentially shut us down."

Builders and developers already find working with the city planning department "slow going" and problematic, said Steven D. Kowaloff, an attorney specializing in zoning and planning issues. "It's a minefield," said Kowaloff. "It drives people crazy...I think if you lose any significant amount of staff, it's going to make problems worse."

According to Kowaloff, in the public sector layoffs are often done by seniority and, therefore, you lose some top-quality professionals and some of your ability to perform. "You don't necessarily eliminate problems or |dead wood'," he said. In the private sector, it is usually the non-producers that go first when there are cutbacks to be made, he said.

Kowaloff said he is aware of some of people who were laid off and "some were really skilled."

The Department of City Planning is in essence the staff of the the 13-member New York City Planning Commission.
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Author:Fitzgerald, Therese
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jul 17, 1991
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