Grocery store zoning incentives debated

FRESH program would create incentives to encourage developing full-line grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods. On October 26, 2009, the City Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee heard testimony on the City’s proposed Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program. The program would provide zoning and financial incentives to encourage grocerystores in neighborhoods identified in a 2008 study as being underserved by stores offering a full range of fresh food. These neighborhoods are located primarily in northern Manhattan, southern Bronx, central Brooklyn, and areas of Queens.

The program would apply to manufacturing and commercial districts within the underserved communities. Stores qualifying for benefits would be required to provide at least 6,000 sq.ft. of space for food and non-food products, and at least 2,000 sq.ft. or 30 percent of space, whichever is greater, for perishable goods. Currently, grocery stores up to 10,000 sq.ft. are permitted in M1 districts, but under the proposal stores up to 30,000 sq.ft. would be permitted as-of-right.

A proposed grocery store certified by the City Planning Commission’s Chair would be eligible for zoning incentives, including receiving one square foot of additional residential floor area for every square foot provided for a FRESH store. Financial incentives from the City’s Industrial Development Agency include sales tax exemptions on construction- related materials, and property tax abatements. 6 CityLand 119 (Sept. 15, 2009).

The Commission, during its review of the proposal, made several modifications to the FRESH program. The Commission required that affected community boards receive a 45-day review period of any application seeking FRESH certification, and that the grocery store owner submit every three years an affidavit attesting to its compliance with the program’s requirements.

At the Subcommittee’s hearing, community organizations and business groups expressed concerns about how the program would assist existing grocery stores, and how it would ensure that fresh food is made affordable. A representative from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger recommended that the program require participating stores to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants, and Children (SNAP/WIC) benefits so that healthy food is available to low-income residents.

Council Member Simcha Felder questioned Planning’s Barry Dinerstein about what benefits existing store owners not expanding or renovating could receive under the proposal. Felder stated that it is “critical” that stores already “doing the right thing” receive incentives and benefits. Speaker Christine Quinn discussed the importance of the program, noting that many City residents still do not have access to quality, low-priced foods. She said the proposal may “not be perfect yet,” but she believed that the hearing process would help create a balanced and fair program that meets the City’s needs.

The hearing was closed without a vote, and the Subcommittee is expected to vote on the proposal in early November.

Council: Hearing on FRESH Foods Zoning Text (Oct. 26, 2009).


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