NYC Planning Commission approves city-wide zoning changes

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New York Construction Report staff writer

The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) has approved the “City of Yes for Economic Opportunity,” a set of citywide zoning changes that will help businesses find space and grow, support entrepreneurs and freelancers, boost growing industries, and enable more vibrant streetscapes and commercial corridors.

“Today’s vote in favor of ‘City of Yes for Economic Opportunity’ is an important step towards creating a more dynamic and prosperous future for New York City,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing, Economic Development, and Workforce Maria Torres-Springer. “The zoning of 1961 is not serving the needs of 2024, and replacing outdated regulations with clear and sensible rules will help boost small businesses, growing industries and commercial corridors.

The proposal includes 18 sensible policy changes that would expand options for businesses to locate near their customers, support growing industries and sectors, foster vibrant neighborhoods and commercial corridors, and provide businesses with clear zoning rules. Among these 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  • Eliminate outdated rules that prohibit dancing, comedy, and open mic nights in restaurants and venues in commercial areas, and instead govern venues by size and volume;
  • Create a process to allow new corner stores in residential areas, as approximately 265,000 New Yorkers currently live in areas where a new corner store could not be located within a quarter mile of their home;
  • Update 1960s-era rules that limit where amusements are allowed, so experiential retail 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  • Remove outdated restrictions on indoor urban agriculture;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;
  • Jumpstart local small businesses by helping them expand local delivery capacity; and
  • Facilitate adaptive reuse of commercial buildings by modernizing loading dock rules, among other critical updates.

“As the agency charged with enforcing the city’s Zoning Resolution, we are glad to see the City Planning Commission agrees that the status quo can be overhauled to support small businesses without negatively impacting the quality of life for New Yorkers,” said New York City Department of Buildings Commissioner Jimmy Oddo.

While 16 of the 18 proposals received at least 50 percent approval with conditions, several changes were made to the initiative during the CPC’s review.

For example, to address worries that allowing commercial uses on the upper floors of mixed-use buildings could create conflict with existing apartments, the plan was modified to ensure that spaces occupied by existing homes could not be converted to upper floor commercial uses.

In response to concerns that home business expansion might create quality-of-life issues, the CPC made modifications to clarify that such businesses must be limited to an individual’s dwelling unit and cannot occupy residential common areas, such as hallways or lobbies.

A 1,000-square-foot cap for home businesses was also reinstated to deter the combination of residential units for business activities.

Other modifications include clarifications about which types of businesses qualify to newly locate in commercial zones and the required environmental protection standards for life sciences facilities. Several other small modifications were made to clarify parts of the zoning text for practitioners, developers, and enforcement by the New York City Department of Buildings.

“Today’s vote was a huge win for unlocking the economic potential of neighborhoods citywide,” said Jesse Lazar, executive director, American Institute of Architects New York. “By making commonsense steps to modernize NYC’s zoning regulations, ‘City of Yes for Economic Opportunity’ will support small businesses, create thriving commercial corridors, and bolster NYC’s economic recovery. AIANY is particularly excited about the steps to develop a commercial streetscape framework that is pedestrian friendly and prioritizes mixed-use neighborhoods.

“Regional Plan Association applauds the City Planning Commission for voting in favor of the ‘City of Yes for Economic Opportunity,’” said Tom Wright, president and CEO, Regional Plan Association. “We must adapt our zoning regulations to address the changes we’re seeing since Covid. Office districts must transform into 24/7 communities; clean manufacturing and small businesses must be able to find affordable spaces they need in locations where they can thrive; and we need to do away with arbitrary limitations on nightlife and mixed-uses that no longer reflect the dynamism of our neighborhoods. We thank Mayor Adams, Chair Dan Garodnick, and all the members of the commission for taking this important step to move the proposal forward.”

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