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BY DENNIS LYNCH
Community Board 1 is doing away with its unique geographic-based committee system in favor of issue-based, district-wide committees with the hope it will help streamline the board’s work and better serve the district.
The board eliminated the Financial District, Seaport/Civic Center, and Tribeca committees and added two new ones: Licensing and Permits, and Resiliency, Waterfronts, and Parks. The board is actually resurrecting the latter committee, which had existed in the past, but added resiliency to the docket of the panel overseeing Downtown’s waterfront and parks.
It has also tweaked the titles and roles of some other committees. The Landmarks Committee has added “Preservation” to its title, and the Quality of Life Committee has added “Service Delivery,” highlighting that it will address how “the city delivers the proper services all our citizens deserve,” such as sanitation, public safety, and traffic control, according to board chairman Anthony Notaro.
The board will keep the Battery Park City Committee, since that neighborhood is a state-run entity and so has unique issues not shared by the rest of Community District 1. It will also keep the Youth and Education Committee, the Planning Committee, and the Personnel Committee (which handles mostly internal business). The Planning Committee’s role was considered “too wide ranging,” Notaro said, so it will now be focused more on land use, including zoning issues and Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) applications.
The role of the Executive Committee will also shift to focus more on developing broader strategies to deal with community issues, whereas before it concentrated on the board’s operational operations. The board will keep its Street Fair Task Force, but add the a task force to “look at issues about health, seniors, homeless and housing” and come up with ways the board can address them,” Notaro said.
It’s the first change in the committee structure in more than three decades. Notaro said the new structure will allow committee members to build expertise on the topics they cover, and so be better able to perform their jobs.
“Everyone has some issues locally, but the major issues we face today are district-wide — the impact of major construction, traffic, sanitation, resiliency being number one since Sandy,” Notaro said. “And all those issues really need subject matter experts, people that can dive into these issues and understand what resources we have to help solve problems.”
The old geographic system was put in place when the board was struggling to get people involved, Notaro said. It made more sense at the time to delegate to what were essentially sub-boards on the neighborhood level, because each part of the district faced unique issues and people were more apt to get involved with the board if they could more directly deal with those issues in their immediate area.
Notaro polled members over the last few months to come up with the new scheme. He asked what their top issues were, what were their committee suggestions, and what problems the old system presented.
Soon-to-be-former Seaport/Civic Center Committee chairman Marco Pasanella said he will be part on the waterfront committee and is looking at what other committees where he could be of use. Pasanella may no longer be a chairperson, but he’s happy with the reshuffle process and thinks its worth trying something new.
“You lose a little bit in the passion of your little neighborhood that you know so well but the trade off may be really worth it,” he said. “You may be more connected to other parts of the district and be able to treat these thematic things in a more unified way, whereas committees in different geographies deal with the same issues, but sort of reinvent the wheel sometimes. There’s trade-offs, but I’m game.”
Looking back over the last six months or so, the board found that geographic boards especially spent a lot of time reviewing liquor license and sidewalk cafe permits. The Licensing and Permits Committee will now handle those permits district-wide, freeing up other board members to focus on their new committees’ issues.
There are some dissenters, though. Marc Ameruso, who has served on CB1 for 25 years and is on four committees, including the to-be-eliminated Tribeca Committee, said the geographic committee structure was a strength of the board, particularly in regards to licensing and permit issues. He preferred an even older iteration of the geographic system where each committee had someone with extensive land-use experience on board to handle those issues in the neighborhood with full knowledge of the local context.
“The Seaport is certainly not like Tribeca, and having that institutional knowledge is really a strength,” Ameruso said. “[In years past] there was always subject matter experts, and the staff was always there as well, nothing really fell through the cracks — at least I never saw it.”
Ameruso serves on the Planning Committee, which will now handle all of the licensing and permitting in the district. He worried all of those permits will bog down the committee and discourage public participation. Instead, he suggested that the board have geographic committees only for licensing and permitting. On a positive note, Ameruso applauded the incorporation of veterans issues into the Human and Seniors Task Force’s duties.
Those issues won’t necessarily be dealt with one-size-fits-all, district-wide solutions though, Notaro said. Using the Licensing and Permits Committee as an example, Notaro said that members will be still be encouraged to make their voices heard on issues in their immediate area, since each neighborhood still has unique challenges and needs.
“What we’re going to do is have a consistent way in how we review applications, how we get stipulations in writing from owners,” Notaro said. “If someone comes to us with an application in Fidi, I expect the members of that committee who live in Fidi to say ‘here’s what makes sense in our neighborhood.’ There should be differences in how things are handled [in different neighborhoods].”
The new structure takes effect April 1, no fooling.