Mayor Announces Zoning Proposals for Grocery Stores, Transit Accessibility, Small Businesses

Image of current districts under the FRESH program. One of the Mayor’s proposed zoning amendments will expand the FRESH program in outer boroughs. Image Credit: NYC DCP

The zoning proposals include allowing gyms and spas to open as-of-right. On March 9, 2021, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced several proposed zoning changes to support small businesses, create more groceries stores and improve accessibility across the city. The zoning proposals will enter the public review process later this year.

FRESH Program Extension

The first proposed zoning change will seek to grow the current Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program. The FRESH program offers zoning and tax incentives to encourage the development of accessible stores for fresh meats and produce, perishable goods and other grocery products. Zoning incentives include an additional square foot of residential floor area for a mixed building for every square foot provided for a FRESH food store and a possible increase in maximum building height by 15 feet authorized by the City Planning Commission to accommodate the extra floor area. In FRESH eligible manufacturing districts, a FRESH food store of up to 30,000 square feet would be permitted as-of-right instead of requiring a special permit. FRESH stores have requirements for what percentage of the store must be used for the sale of food products, and how the stores look to blend into the streetscape. 

Currently the FRESH program operates in specific districts, including portions of Manhattan Community Districts 9 through 12, portions of Bronx Community Districts 1 through 7, portions of Brooklyn Community Districts 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 16 and 17, portions of Queens Community districts 1 and 12 and the Special Downtown Jamaica District. 

The proposed zoning change expands the FRESH program in Bronx Community Districts 8 and 9; Brooklyn Community Districts 1, 2, 12 and 13; Queens Community Districts 1, 3, 4 and 14 and Staten Island Community District 1. 

Transit Accessibility

The second zoning proposal amends zoning rules to allow the MTA to leverage private development in order to add elevators or other station access to New York City Transit, Staten Island Railway, Long Island Rail Road and Metro-North Stations across the city. Currently, less than 30 percent of the almost 500 New York City Transit and Staten Island Railway stations are wheelchair accessible. 

The proposal requires property owners of developments near stations to work with the MTA to provide station access easements and expand zoning incentives in high-density districts to create station accessibility improvements. 

Health and Fitness Text Amendment

The third zoning proposal changes the zoning regulation that requires gyms, martial arts studios, spas, massage therapy businesses and other health related businesses to open as-of-right where zoning permits. Currently, these health related businesses must first seek special permission from the Board of Standards and Appeals(BSA). Obtaining a permit from BSA frequently adds months in the timeline and thousands of dollars of upfront costs to open these kinds of businesses. The change is being proposed in consideration that during the city’s continuing economic recovery, significant barriers should be removed for small businesses that provide healthy benefits to New Yorkers.

Open Restaurants

The final proposed zoning change would remove zoning limitations that may prevent the Open Restaurants program from becoming permanent. Currently, the Open Restaurants program allows restaurants to offer outdoor dining options without the hurdles of applying for permits during a time where indoor dining was limited or restricted. Over 11,000 participants have taken part in the Open Restaurants program, providing restaurants with more opportunities for income and helping save an estimated 100,000 jobs. 

Over the next few months, public meetings will be scheduled for these proposals, leading up to the start of the ULURP public review process later this year. The goal is to have the proposals approved before the end of the de Blasio administration. 

Mayor Bill de Blasio stated, ““Building a recovery for all of us means cutting red tape and supporting efforts to make our communities healthier and more accessible. These zoning changes will help New Yorkers create the neighborhoods we all want to live in: ones with fresh food, easy access to health and wellness facilities, and equitable transit access for New Yorkers with disabilities.”

Department of City Planning Director Marisa Lago stated, “In our most difficult moments, we find the most innovative solutions to the problems facing us. These zoning proposals focus on our city’s recovery, addressing some of the challenges of today and tomorrow. I look forward to the public discussion around these proposals, and especially how they can contribute to a stronger, more equitable city.”

By: Veronica Rose (Veronica is the CityLaw fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2018.)



3 thoughts on “Mayor Announces Zoning Proposals for Grocery Stores, Transit Accessibility, Small Businesses

  1. NYC needs more large, clean, bright, well-stocked 70,000 sqft supermarkets like ShopRite and Stop-N-Shop. Large supermarkets avoid the neighborhoods on that list and will continue to do so.

  2. Its great to hear that FRESH will be coming to Staten Island. CB 1 areas, such as the Special St, George District and the Bay Street Corridor can benefit from this program. Developers should also be afforded the same zoning bonuses afforded to the other boroughs that partake in the program.

    Transit accessibility is very important. However, why are there no Transit Zones in Staten Island. Transit Oriented Development (TOD) should be considered for the hubs along the SIRT. Zoning Districts are poorly mapped at these hubs and should be reconsidered and afforded incentives for new mixed used and more dense development.

  3. The open restaurants amendment is absurd. These were temporary, and need to get off the streets. It’s so noisy, brings rats, takes tons of parking, uses public space to landlords advantage without payment, they block the sidewalks and access to the street for pedestrians, etc, etc.

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