DCP Hosts First Info Session for “City of Yes” Text Amendments

The first info session for the “City of Yes” amendments was held on 10/17. The next session is today, 10/27. Image Credit: DCP.

On October 17, 2022, the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) held an online information session to discuss Mayor Eric Adams’ “City of Yes” initiatives. The “City of Yes” was first announced back in June and focuses on three key areas of reform: Carbon Neutrality, Economic Opportunity, and Housing Opportunity. The amendments highlight the mayor’s desire to move away from “Not in My Backyard,” or “NIMBY” policies that restrict the development of housing, place restrictions on small businesses and where they can operate, and limits to how green technology can be implemented. In his initial announcement, Mayor Adams said, “We are going to turn New York into a ‘City of Yes’ — yes in my backyard, yes on my block, yes in my neighborhood.”

Overview of the “City of Yes”

Dan Garodnick, DCP Director and New York City Planning Commission Chair, provided an overview of the new “City of Yes” proposals. Focused on economic recovery, affordable housing, and sustainability, the proposals are responses to what Garodnick called “three simultaneous crises—the climate crisis, the economic impact of COVID, and a housing crisis.”

Portraying the “City of Yes” proposals in light of those three crises, Garodnick explained why each was essential to the city’s future. Zoning for carbon neutrality aims to address the fact that building operations account for 70 percent of the city’s carbon footprint; by encouraging or requiring greener infrastructure, the city hopes to decrease that amount by 80 percent over the next 30 years. Meanwhile, zoning requirements aimed at storm management endeavor to secure the city against flooding during hurricanes.

The “City of Yes” proposals predict both economic impact and an increase in affordable housing from relaxation of historical zoning regulations. By allowing developers to build more freely, to expand commercial uses of street-level property, and to add more flexibility to requirements like parking space, the City hopes to encourage a boom in small businesses and housing opportunity.

“We need to say yes to greener buildings, yes to jobs, and yes to more housing in all of our communities,” Garodnick said. He reiterated, however, that the zoning proposals were still in their infancy, and that this initial community outreach was before many had undergone even an initial draft. After his overview, he turned the presentation over to other speakers for a more detailed look at “City of Yes” plans.

The conference was presented by Lara Merida, DCP’s Senior Director of Community Planning and Civic Engagement. She was joined by Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, and New York City Councilmember Pierina Sanchez, Chair of the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings. All speakers praised the new initiatives for their bold approach to modernizing the city and encouraging more inclusive, equitable outcomes.

Carbon Neutrality

Nilus Klingel, an architect and senior planner at the DCP, presented information on New York City’s “80×50” plan, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050. It will involve retrofitting existing buildings with more eco-friendly heating and cooling systems, encouraging and requiring greener infrastructure in new development, and even funding new research to develop cleaner waste and energy solutions.

“The key driver for our city’s carbon emissions by far is our building sector, and there’s a big relationship between our buildings and the zoning laws that govern them,” said Klingel.

In the interest of carbon neutrality, the “City of Yes” proposals are prepared to overhaul not just buildings, but transportation, energy, and more. Solar energy is a high priority, and existing zoning codes limit panel installations. Now, the City hopes to relax those limits. Klingel also identified aberrations that might prevent climate-conscious expansions in buildings already at their maximum size. On the streets, the “City of Yes” would allow for more widespread use of charging sites for electric vehicles.

For CityLand’s prior coverage of the zoning text amendment for carbon neutrality, click here.

Economic Opportunity

Another DCP planner, Matt Waskiewicz, spoke about new plans to make business location and growth easier in NYC. Particularly, “Zoning for Economic Opportunity” hopes to reduce storefront vacancies by allowing a wider range of commercial activities. Over 8,500 storefronts in the city are currently vacant. By allowing those shops to be repurposed—and by rolling back laws that limit business size for certain industries—the city hopes to grow its economy to serve the needs of New Yorkers.

Notable changes would include the allowance of dance and art studios in street-level spaces, as well as eliminating remnants of the city’s repealed Cabaret Law. By broadening permitted uses of certain zoning categories, the DCP would also flatten out more subtle differences between categories that might confuse small business owners not versed in the Zoning Code’s technicalities.

Finally, along with zoning changes, plans for “Economic Opportunity” would include the creation of new job centers near major transit hubs. Said Waskiewicz, “Allowing the creation of flexible new space that can grow jobs [will] allow our economy to adapt as the industries of tomorrow can be able to occupy our spaces and make sure that New York is able to adapt and grow and change and become more vibrant.”

For CityLand’s prior coverage of the zoning text amendment for economic opportunity click here and here.

Housing Opportunity

Last to speak was DCP Senior Counsel John Mangin, who spoke about “City of Yes” plans for affordable housing. He explained that the current layers of requirements sometimes result in zoning inconsistency. In addition, particularly onerous parking requirements limit many developments to 10 units, depriving the city of a wealth of potential housing. He stressed the impact of small changes multiplied by a large area: while a handful of units may not seem like much on any one building, that handful replicated across the city could effect dramatic change.

In developing plans for affordable housing under the “City of Yes,” the DCP drew particularly on recent research by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). By implementing the HPD’s suggestions and simplifying zoning requirements across the board, the DCP will attempt to create more of the housing New York desperately needs without unduly burdening any one borough or neighborhood.

One major change would be to expand incentives granted for affordable senior housing to all affordable housing. The DCP hopes also to empower owners to update and alter their buildings over time, not only creating new housing but “giv[ing] new life to… underutilized buildings.”

For CityLand’s prior coverage of the zoning text amendment for housing opportunities, click here.

Community Response

Community members, appearing by Zoom or telephone, were each given three minutes to speak. Some expressed concern over luxury developments, zoning for basement apartments, and the preservation of historic districts. Few definite answers were forthcoming, but the presenters confirmed that all proposed zoning text amendments would be informed by in-depth consultation with multiple departments and subject to intense review before going into effect.

Robert Stern, of the Morningside Heights Community Coalition, asked whether the City would be “willing to work with communities to develop their own plans that meet similar criteria to the ‘City of Yes’ campaign.” He gave the example of Morningside Heights, which has already been working with the City Council Land Use Division to promote economic opportunities and affordable housing. Mangin answered that the plan was to “ensure that every neighborhood across the city does its part.”

Maxine Barnes asked about rezoning planned under the “City of Yes,” and how the proposals would be overseen. Mangin clarified that the text amendments would change the meaning of zoning districts, but not their distributions, and explained that the code would continue to be enforced by the Department of Buildings and supported by the HPD. Barnes expressed particular concern over “alcohol, music, and dancing on these commercial corridors [and] the proximity of residential [buildings] in that area,” but she was reassured that the “City of Yes” campaign was still in its earliest planning stages.

Interpretation for the info session was available in American Sign Language, Spanish, Mandarin, and Cantonese. To watch the first session, click here. A second session will be held today, October 27 for those unable to attend the first.

By: Kyle Hunt (Kyle is a CityLaw intern and a New York Law School student, Class of 2024.)




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