Zoning changes will mean cleaner air, lower energy costs: NYC Mayor

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New York Construction Report staff writer

New York City council has approved the “City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality” proposal, citywide zoning changes that they say will facilitate climate action, clean energy, and resiliency by removing barriers to greener and more efficient energy systems, buildings, transportation, and water and waste systems.

Updates to the zoning code are expected to reduce New York City’s operational carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050, in accordance with the Paris Climate Accords. This initiative is the first of three “City of Yes” proposals to update New York’s zoning and will be followed by “City of Yes for Economic Opportunity” and “City of Yes for Housing Opportunity,” focused on economic opportunity and housing, respectively — undergo public and environmental review.

“New York City is a ‘City of Yes,’ and this historic proposal will pave the way for a more sustainable future,” said Mayor Eric Adams. “By modernizing our city’s zoning code, we have taken a bold step forward in fighting climate change, while delivering cleaner air, lower energy costs, smarter waste management, and better access to EV technologies to New Yorkers across the city. We are grateful to our partners in the New York City Council for their support on this once-in-a-generation initiative and look forward to working together to advance our next two ‘City of Yes’ proposals to build a more equitable economy and combat the housing crisis.”

Facilitating a Renewable Energy Grid: Removing zoning obstacles that severely limit how much rooftop space can be covered by solar panels, unnecessarily slowing the city’s shift towards renewable energy sources.

“Ambitious and modern solutions are what New York City needs to create a smarter and healthier city for future generations — that is exactly what we see here today in the ‘City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality,’” said New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Adolfo Carrión Jr. “With these citywide zoning changes, New Yorkers can expect a greener, more resilient, more prosperous, and more affordable city, with energy efficiency in our buildings, in our transportation systems, and throughout our neighborhoods.”

Policy changes will make it easier to install energy storage infrastructure needed for solar energy and facilitate standalone, grid-supporting solar and community microgrids — particularly in low-income communities — that are currently banned in residential areas. These changes will open over 8,500 acres of parking lots across the city for potential use of solar panels. If fully built out, these solar panels could power more than 130,000 homes.

They include:

Creating Cleaner Buildings: Lightening onerous restrictions on the height and thickness of walls that restrict building electrification and retrofits for greater efficiency. This policy will add flexibility, making these modifications possible while maintaining the look and feel of the city’s neighborhoods. These changes will facilitate environmentally-friendly retrofits for over 50,000 buildings, including more than 1 million homes where retrofits are currently infeasible and restricted by city zoning.

Supporting Electric Vehicles and Micromobility: More than doubling commercially-zoned land where electric-vehicle charging facilities can be located. This policy also clarifies regulations and facilitates safe bicycle and e-mobility parking. These changes mean that electric vehicle charging is now possible in more than 400 million additional square feet of space throughout the city.

Modernizing Water, Compost, and Recycling Regulations: Expanding the use of permeable pavement and rain gardens will cut red tape and eliminate uncertainty for recycling and composting and encourage rooftop food production. These changes will help divert the 34 percent of New York City’s residential waste — and as much as 45 percent of all solid waste — that is organic material from landfills to beneficial use.

“The ‘City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality’ builds on the success of the influential Zone Green area bonus by restructuring it to focus on whole-building energy use,” said George Kontaroudis, vice chair, New York Passive House. “This change will incentivize the incorporation of a wider variety of low-energy building systems, from HVAC, to façade, and on-site renewable energy generation.

“Our city has demonstrated time and again that when we incentivize high-performance buildings, we expedite the adoption of the systems and standards that make them possible, the rapid increase in the adoption of the Passive House building standard being one example. This holistic approach tied to economic benefits will facilitate wider adoption of the technologies and passive concepts our city needs to decarbonize.”

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