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197-a Technical Guide Cover 197-a Plan Technical Guide, 1997. ($4.00)
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PDF Document The full report is available in PDF Format; you will require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. Note: certain information in the 1997 print report of the 197-a Plan Technical Guide has been updated for this on-line edition of the guide.


The City Charter, in Section 197-a, authorizes community boards and borough boards, along with the Mayor, the City Planning Commission (the "Commission"), the Department of City Planning ("DCP"), and any Borough President, to sponsor plans for the development, growth, and improvement of the city, its boroughs and communities. Once approved by the Commission and adopted by the City Council, 197-a plans guide future actions of city agencies in the areas addressed in the plans.

When the Charter was last revised in 1989, it called upon the City Planning Commission to adopt rules establishing minimum standards for the form and content of proposed 197-a plans. The Commission did so in July 1991 with the adoption of Rules for the Processing of Plans Pursuant to Charter Section 197-a. In addition to establishing procedures and a timetable for the 197-a process, the rules include standards for form, content and sound planning policy ("threshold standards").

As shown in Chapter 2, review of 197-a plans occurs in two stages. The first, the threshold review, is conducted by the Department of City Planning and the City Planning Commission to ensure that a plan is complete, coherent and properly documented before it is reviewed on its merits. The second stage, substantive review, allows for community board, borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council consideration of the plan's objectives, policies and proposals. The process may culminate in approval of the plan as submitted, approval as modified by the City Planning Commission and/or the City Council, or disapproval.

Since adoption of the rules, 11 community boards and a Borough President have submitted 197-a plans. The borough plan and seven of the community plans have been adopted, two are under review, one was disapproved and one was withdrawn. Several other boards have initiated but have not yet completed 197-a plans. Partly because of the novelty of the process, some confusion has arisen over the meaning of a 197-a plan in general and, more specifically, the threshold standards for form and content and sound planning policy. The purpose of this technical guide is to help dispel that confusion.

Although the Charter allows for citywide and boroughwide 197-a plans sponsored by various entities, the 197-a process has generated the most interest at the community or neighborhood level. The guide therefore focuses on local area plans sponsored by community boards. Neighborhood or civic groups within the larger community may draft 197-a plans, but they must be approved, sponsored, and submitted by a community board, borough board, or borough president.

The guide is "technical" in that it concentrates chiefly on the threshold standards for form and content and sound planning policy. It supplements but does not supplant the Rules for the Processing of Plans Pursuant to Charter Section 197-a which all potential sponsors should carefully review before undertaking a plan. The guide clarifies the threshold standards contained in Article 4 of the rules, and provides data sources andsuggested formats for presenting the information needed to satisfy the standards. It also offers guidance on how to make the best case for a plan's recommendations, including discussion of the kinds of analysis most relevant to typical planning issues.

The guide may also help community boards determine whether a 197-a plan is the most appropriate vehicle for addressing their issues. Chapter 3 outlines some of the benefits and drawbacks of the 197-a process, and suggests alternatives for achieving community objectives. A 197-a plan generally takes three or four years from inception to adoption, and requires the continuing commitment of its sponsors even after adoption to ensure successful implementation. With that commitment, an appropriate set of objectives and a realistic outlook, a community board may find the 197-a process well worth the effort.

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