The United States Tennis Association’s plan to expand within Flushing Meadows Corona park has completed the Community Board segment of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, with three boards voting yes to the project, while three voted no.
But in the process, boards debated the most effective way to influence the ensuing layers of decision makers and advisory boards, as the USTA proposal navigates the ULURP through Borough Hall on its way to the City Council and ultimately the City Planning Commission.
Which begs the question: Are all community board recommendations created equal in the eyes of the ULURP?
While five of the six boards included a list of stipulations in their final decision, three of them were attached to a vote approving the project while two were attached to a no vote. Each believed its vote would be most effective in sending a message and influencing negotiations between the city and the USTA to increase the community benefits.
Legally speaking, all recommendations attached to a vote, whether in the affirmative or negative, are presented before the City Council and the City Planning Commission.
“The City Planning Commission carefully weighs the recommendations of the community boards, borough president as well as the testimony it receives during ULURP in making a determination,” said a spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning.
But the belief that the yes or no vote matters may be fueled by a semantic argument.
“Why would I care that much about the board that voted no?” said CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty, whose board approved the measure with a dozen stipulations. “That’s like telling a kid he can’t go to the movies because he’s a bad boy and then saying ‘Here’s 25 cents go to the store and buy yourself some candy.’”
The boards also have a “yes to no” option, which marries an approving vote to all attached conditions being met. Kelty said the tactic was constricting. “If they meet seven of the 12 stipulations, I’m supposed say that’s not good enough?” he asked.
The confusion was so thick at CB 8 that during its public hearing regarding the USTA on March 13, longtime member Martha Taylor reverted to asking if “a no vote removes us from the negotiating table.”
Technically speaking, there is no negotiating table. But that didn’t stop USTA National Tennis Center Managing Director Daniel Zausner from asserting “There is no such thing as a ‘no vote with stipulations,’ and a no vote gets thrown out.”
The explanation, though technically incorrect, apparently answered Taylor’s hunch. It was instrumental to the board’s discussions over a “yes to no” provision that would have married CB 8’s approval to the stipulations being met.
“If you vote it down, then your stipulations don’t exist anymore; that’s my take on the thing,” she said after the board voted to approve the project with stipulations 26-8.
In reality, a board’s recommendations are not thrown out, regardless of a vote (CB 9 exercised its option to vote no without any addendums at its vote on March 12).
The “no with stipulations” votes passed by community boards 3 and 4 are admittedly unorthodox, according to borough president spokesman Dan Andrews, but they are not immediately dismissed.
“The community board would be best able to explain how and why it voted this unusual way,” he said.
The effectiveness of stipulations listed by a community board is dubious at best. In 1993, three community boards passed along 19 stipulations with the USTA’s first expansion within the park.
None came to fruition.