streamlining development on the waterfront

| 18 Nov 2014 | 10:53

The city’s Economic Development Corp. is working towards implementing a one-stop permitting process for building and other projects on the waterfront.

The EDC released a request for proposals for a website that will centralize - from start to finish - the regulatory hurdles that come with any initiative involving waterfront development.

The idea originated with the Metropolitan Waterfront Alliance, which has been leading efforts to reform the process, according to MWA President Roland Lewis. Lewis said bigger organizations and developers routinely hire specialists to guide them through the process, and aren’t really the target user for this website.

Instead, the ideal users will be small business owners and independent property owners who have interests on the water, and who often are confounded by the paperwork and bureaucracy involved in getting anything done on the water.

“You have multiple agencies from multiple levels of government, sometimes giving almost contradictory advice, so this is a way of straightening this out and helping the average applicant negotiate the process,” said Lewis. “Particularly for smaller maritime operators and homeowners.”

For instance, the site would help tugboat and smaller barge companies, which Lewis said are vital to New York’s economy. “If we didn’t have them we wouldn’t have the port, and we have more trucks on the road,” said Lewis.

The discussion around this issue is seven years old, according to the MWA officials, who said they’ve received complaints about the arcane permitting process since their organization formed around 2008. One of the main recommendations of a 2010 white-paper authored by the MWA was establishing a one-stop-shop for waterfront permitting.

According to Lewis, the EDC ran with the idea and the website and implementation is being funded with the state’s cooperation through the Empire Development Corp. The site will be called, “Waterfront One Stop” and Lewis estimated it would take at least a year to be up and running.

Ray Fusco, a vice president with the EDC’s Ports and Transportation Dept., said Waterfront One-Stop will be “a central repository for all information about permitting, providing a look at how all the elements come together, and encouraging greater coordination and communication among involved agencies,” according to the MWA.

The push comes on the same day as a blockbuster announcement that billionaire Barry Diller, chairman of AIG/InterActiveCorp, is spearheading an effort to build a $170 million, 2.4 acre public and performance space that would replace the derelict Pier 54 at 14th St. on Manhattan’s West Side. The park would feature “a series of wooden nooks” and three performance spaces, including an amphitheater.

Diller will be fronting $130 million for the project through a family foundation, and has pledged to cover the park’s operating expenses for 20 years after it is built. The other $40 million will come by way of a combination of funds from the city and state, as well as the Hudson River Park Trust Fund. The New York Times reported that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio are supportive of the project, even as some in state government are wary of private control and influence over public space and the seemingly secretive planning process that occurred before the announcement.

While Diller and his associates will likely hire a specialist to guide them through the city’s permitting process, if his project proceeds, the park will likely impact a host of other waterfront concerns on the West Side, some of which are bound to be less well-off and will themselves need to make plans of their own. It’s Lewis’ and the MWA’s hope that this process will now be streamlined for the rank and file business owners that work on the water.

“MWA is thrilled that an idea we have developed…is now being implemented by the city,” said Lewis in a statement. “A user-friendly, web-based permit review process will allow small business owners to make necessary improvements to maritime facilities in months, rather than years, and will allow potential applicants to focus on their jobs, rather than on piles of paperwork.”