Grocery store zoning incentives proposed

Program would create floor area bonus and other incentives in effort to increase number of grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods. On August 5, 2009, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the City’s proposed Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program. The program, a joint effort by the Department of City Planning and the City’s Economic Development Corporation, is a response to a City-sponsored study from 2008 finding that low- and moderate-income neighborhoods had been underserved by grocery stores offering a full range of products, including fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables. As part of the program, Planning proposed a text amendment that would create zoning incentives to promote the creation of full-line grocery stores in these neighborhoods.

Among the incentives, mixed-use buildings would receive one square foot of additional residential floor area for every square foot used to provide a FRESH food store, up to a maximum of 20,000 sq.ft. To accommodate the extra floor area, the Commission would be authorized to increase the building’s maximum height by 15 feet. The proposed amendment would reduce the parking requirements for grocery stores and also allow as-of-right grocery stores up to 30,000 sq.ft. in M1 zoning districts, eliminating the need for a special permit. Under the program, FRESH food stores would be eligible for financial incentives from the City’s Industrial Development Agency, including breaks on real estate and sales taxes.

A grocery store utilizing any of the incentives would first need to be certified as a FRESH food store by the Commission’s Chair. To qualify, a store would have to meet certain requirements, such as providing at least 6,000 sq.ft. of space for a general line of food and nonfood grocery products, and setting aside at least 500 sq.ft. for fresh produce.

At the Commission’s hearing, elected officials, residents, and business groups supported the proposal. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz praised Planning’s efforts but expressed concern that new grocery stores might hurt small neighborhood stores. Among his recommendations, Markowitz requested that the Commission expand the program to make existing stores and stores under 6,000 sq.ft. eligible for financial incentives.

A representative of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State, a trade association representing 800 grocery stores in the City, stated that the proposal addressed obstacles that limited the creation of grocery stores in certain neighborhoods. She said that permitting grocery stores as-of-right in M1 districts would increase development opportunities for companies looking to build new stores by reducing time and up-front costs associated with the City’s land use review process.

If approved by the Commission, the proposal will require City Council approval.

CPC: FRESH Foods Zoning Text (N 090412 ZRY – text amend.) (Aug. 5, 2009).


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