NYC modernizing business zoning rules

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New York Construction Report staff writer

A plan to modernize outdated zoning rules for businesses was passed by New York City Council this week.

“City of Yes for Economic Opportunity” aims to give businesses more flexibility by cutting decades-old zoning regulations.

Officials say the plan will make it easier to fill vacant storefronts, boost light manufacturing such as jewelry-making and 3D printing, and update rules for auto repair businesses and the life sciences sector. It is the second of three City of Yes zoning proposals led by the Department of City Planning.

“We have taken another historic step to bring our city’s zoning code into the 21st century and build a more inclusive and prosperous economy,” Mayor Adams said in a statement following the vote.

The changes will help businesses find space and grow, support entrepreneurs and freelancers, boost growing industries, and enable more vibrant streetscapes and commercial corridors.

It’s one of three “City of Yes” initiatives — along with “City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality,” and “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity.”

“The zoning of 1961 cannot serve the needs of 2024,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “With today’s historic approval, we are replacing antiquated regulations with new, commonsense rules that will boost small businesses, growing industries and commercial corridors.’”

Although “Economic Opportunity” mostly survived the city review process, the removal of the corner store provision suggests a potentially tougher battle ahead for the administration with the “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity” later this year.

Easing zoning restrictions will allow for “a little more housing in every neighborhood” and lead to the creation of 58,200 to 108,900 new homes over 15 years.

Among changes are policies to:

  • More than double the space available for clean manufacturing, allowing small producers, such as microbreweries, apparel makers, and ceramic shops, to open and grow in commercial corridors in all five boroughs for the first time.
  • Create new zoning tools to allow more than 17,000 businesses in industrial areas that are currently prevented from adding space to grow their businesses.
  • Expand the number of businesses able to open in ground- and upper-floor spaces.
  • Eliminate outdated rules that prohibit dancing, comedy, and open mic nights in restaurants and venues in commercial areas, and instead govern venues by size and volume.
  • Update 1960s-era rules that limit where amusements are allowed, so experiential retail, such as virtual reality arcades, and family-friendly activities can be located closer to where New Yorkers live.
  • Modernize how zoning regulates laboratories so life sciences research can flourish in offices and near universities and hospitals.
  • Remove outdated restrictions on indoor urban agriculture.
  • Fill empty storefronts by fixing decades-old rules that ban businesses from setting up in certain long-term vacant facilities.
  • Allow a wider range of businesses, including barbers and interior designers, to be based in homes.
  • Foster cleaner and safer streets and support local small businesses by helping them expand local delivery capacity.
  • Facilitate adaptive reuse of commercial buildings by modernizing loading dock rules.

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