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New York City’s Revised CEQR Technical Manual

Client Advisory

September 17, 2010

The Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination released a revised City Environmental Quality Review (“CEQR”) Technical Manual on May 17, 2010.[i] 

While the CEQR regulations and the manual are merely the City’s procedures for implementing the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) within the five boroughs, environmental review in the City is rather different and more involved than elsewhere in the State.    The CEQR Technical Manual is the fundamental document that guides those often-complicated environmental reviews.

The formatting changes to the CEQR technical manual are extensive, making a line-by-line comparison almost impossible. Accompanying the revised manual are new long and short environmental assessment forms, replacing the single form previously used by City agencies. Overall, the formatting changes have made the document far more user friendly and accessible. Since it is now entirely an online document, it can be updated more frequently and contains useful hyperlinks to other guidance. 

The substantive changes generally fall into a few key categories. First, some chapters have been combined. For example, traffic, parking, pedestrian and transit are now addressed in one new chapter, “Transportation,” and analysis of an action’s compliance with the local Waterfront Revitalization Program will be addressed in the “Land-Use and Public Policy” chapter. Second, various references to plans, standards and codes have been updated. These include new references to the 2006 New York City Solid Waste Management Plan and 2009 New York City Energy Conservation Code. Third, the manual contains new standards for assessment of climate change impacts and requires more thorough consideration of sustainability issues. Finally, new standards and “significance” thresholds are sprinkled around the manual. Some notable examples are highlighted below.

  • Transportation: Previously, actions that resulted in parking shortfalls below 61st Street in Manhattan were not treated as having significant impacts. This reflected the City’s goal of discouraging driving in Lower Manhattan and the ready availability of public transportation. The revised manual expands that “no-impact zone” to include most of Manhattan and other outer-borough neighborhoods that are well-served by public transportation.
  • Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change: The manual generally follows the lead of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s 2009 guidance on assessment of climate change impacts in SEQRA. This includes quantification of onsite emissions, emissions from energy usage and emissions from vehicle trips generated by an action as well as qualitative discussion of construction impacts. It adds a major threshold for requiring analysis of GHG emissions: projects that already trigger the need for an environmental impact statement and add 350,000 square feet or greater of building space or otherwise involve energy intensive facilities.  While agencies retain the discretion to require climate change analysis for lesser projects, this threshold will likely save many smaller actions from costly and complicated GHG analyses. For major actions requiring assessment, the manual adds a requirement to assess a local action’s compliance with the City’s goal of reducing emissions by 30% by 2030. An action that conflicts with this goal may be treated as having a significant impact.
  • Air Quality: An action must generate a higher number of vehicle trips within the Manhattan core of 30th Street to 61st Street before a quantitative air quality analysis is required. This higher threshold reflects greater fuel efficiency and lower emissions from automobiles.
  • Neighborhood Design: For certain actions on sites sensitive to wind impacts, a wind analysis will be required. 
  • Open Space: Typically, reviews consider whether a neighborhood meets the City’s goal of 2.5 acres of open space for each 1,000 residents. The manual now includes lists and maps of neighborhoods that meet or fall below this threshold. This should make the assessment process easier. A decrease of 5% in the open space ratio, however, may now be treated as a significant impact. The manual also includes a specific reference to the process for alienating parkland, which involves the City Council’s passage of a “home rule resolution” calling upon the State legislature to grant alienation approval. This probably reflects the 2007 regulatory interpretation by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that calls for environmental review early in the alienation process.
  • Shadows: Shadow assessments now require three-dimensional computer modeling if preliminary analysis indicates a sensitive resource might be affected. Plantings included in the City’s “Green Streets” program are now considered sunlight-sensitive resources. Evaluation of shadow impacts on open spaces now includes consideration of utilization rates during affected times. While the manual no longer includes relocation of open space facilities as an acceptable mitigation strategy, the use of artificial light now may be an acceptable mitigation strategy in some circumstances, including backlighting stained glass windows.
  • Hazardous Materials: This chapter gives an overview of how Phase I and Phase II Environmental Analysis is conducted. Under prevailing industry standards, physical sampling and other Phase II actions are not required if the Phase I analysis does not identify potential Recognized Environmental Conditions (RECs). The revised manual may change this practice in the City by requiring the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) to concur that no Phase II sampling is warranted. This new DEP review requirement is otherwise unexplained and, as currently stated, may adversely affect project schedules.
  • Socioeconomic: The manual adds entirely new thresholds for when a socioeconomic analysis may be required. The direct displacement of 500 residents or 100 employees now triggers the need for an assessment of potential impacts.
  • Infrastructure: The manual requires greater assessment of impacts on combined sewer outfalls, a major problem in the City during heavy rains. 
  • Land-use and public policy: The manual requires assessment of an action’s consistency with, and impacts on, PLANYC and the City’s other sustainability goals. The study area for small projects has been reduced from an area within 400 feet of the project to 200 feet.

For those that need more information on the revised CEQR Technical Manual the OEC will be holding an information session on September 23, 2010.  


Questions regarding this advisory should be addressed to authors Christopher Rizzo (212-238-8677, rizzo@clm.com) or Michael K. Plumb (212-238-8794, plumb@clm.com). You may also contact environmental practice group members Clifford P. Case (212-238-8798, case@clm.com) or Ethan I. Strell (212-238-8632, strell@clm.com).


Endnotes


[1] New York City implements the State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) through its local CEQR regulations, codified at 62 Rules of the City of New York Chapter 5 and 43 Rules of the City of New York Chapter 6. This revised manual is available online at www.nyc.gov/oec.



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