Land Use & Zoning,
In an historic move, New York City is setting the stage for transformative change through comprehensive zoning reforms, collectively known as the “City of Yes” initiative. This approach aims to address some of the city’s most pressing issues, including the housing crisis, the need for sustainable development, and the aspiration for a city-wide economic revitalization. This blog takes a look at the three cornerstone changes that are poised to reshape the city, while addressing necessary future considerations.
Goal #1: Housing Reform – “A Little More Housing in Every Neighborhood”
At the heart of the “City of Yes” initiative is a groundbreaking effort to revolutionize residential construction in New York City. Mayor Adams has dubbed this segment of the initiative as the “Build a Little More” campaign to add ‘a little more housing in every neighborhood.’ It is a call to action to address the stark housing shortage that has plagued the city for years. For example, while the majority of New Yorkers spend over 1/3 of their income on rent, less than 1% of apartments listed under $1,500/month are available for new tenants to move into. As of August 2023, there were over 85,000 people utilizing the NYC municipal homeless shelter system.
How does Mayor Adams plan to fix this? Through a series of strategic zoning amendments that are designed to streamline the approval process for residential developments and to promote the construction of affordable homes across all five boroughs. Current NYC zoning regulations prevent expanding housing through restrictions such as:
(1) Buildings that were built after 1961 or outside of central business areas cannot be converted to residential use.
(2) Housing cannot be added above businesses if the units do not already exist.
(3) Mandated off-street parking with all new housing construction.
(4) Prohibition of accessory dwelling units, such as backyard cottages, garage conversions, and basement apartments on single-family residential lots.
Mayor Adams’ initiative would change these restrictions. The initiative also emphasizes the importance of incorporating green spaces and community amenities, creating neighborhoods that are not just livable, but also enjoyable.
Goal #2: Pioneering Sustainability – Energy Efficiency at the Forefront
In tandem with residential reforms, the “City of Yes” initiative places a strong emphasis on advancing energy efficiency and sustainable practices. New York City is at the forefront of the battle against climate change, and these zoning changes are a pivotal part of that fight. By facilitating the integration of renewable energy sources and promoting energy-efficient building designs, the city hopes to lay the groundwork for a more sustainable future.
The city’s commitment to carbon neutrality is reflected in these zoning amendments, which encourage the adoption of green building practices and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The amendments would include developing easier mechanisms for New Yorkers to compost; expanding green technologies to power, heat, and cool buildings; and changing the area limitations on installing solar panels on rooftops and parking garages. These zoning changes aim to empower developers and property owners to make eco-friendly choices, contributing to a greener, cleaner city.
Beyond bricks and mortar, the “City of Yes” initiative aims to be a catalyst for economic growth and opportunity. By reimagining zoning regulations, the city hopes to create an environment where businesses can flourish, and innovation can prosper. The economic opportunity component of the initiative aims to unlock the potential of underutilized areas, fostering job creation and economic diversification.
Current zoning regulations limit density for industrial buildings, require parking for new industrial buildings near subways, and prohibit storefronts from being reoccupied as retail if it has been empty for more than two years. Changes to these regulations, among other alterations, seek to create more flexible spaces for a variety of uses, from manufacturing and arts to technology and retail, with the goal of creating an economy that is robust and resilient.
On October 27th, the NYC Department of City Planning took its next step in environmental review by holding a public scoping meeting to aid in the study of impacts of the “City of Yes” initiative. The recording from that meeting can be found here. In the spring of 2024, all community boards and NYC borough boards and presidents will hold public meetings and offer recommendations for the initiative. Any modifications and ultimate approval or denial of the initiative will occur thereafter.
Throughout the review process, community concerns will be brought to light, such as impacts to neighborhood character, increased congestion, and whether the proposal negatively impacts existing public services. Additionally, the city will need to ensure that the initiative does not put unmanageable stress on existing infrastructure such as public transportation, water, and sewage systems. Finally, balancing development and environmental conservation is and will remain the cornerstone of this initiative, and seeing the proposed environmental conservation efforts come to life will help legitimize the initiative for other cities to use as inspiration for sustainable development.
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