Text revisions offered to encourage energy efficiency

Proposal, dubbed the “Zone Green” initiative, would streamline implementation of energy-efficient retrofits for existing buildings and the construction of new green buildings. On February 29, 2012, the City Planning Commission heard testimony on the Department of City Planning’s “Zone Green” zoning text amendment. Planning is seeking to remove regulations that impede property owners from installing energy-saving retrofits in existing buildings and that discourage the development of new energy-efficient buildings. The proposal would broadly exempt from the zoning resolution’s height, floor area, and lot coverage limits certain types and amounts of external insulation, horizontal and vertical sun-control devices, rooftop greenhouses, wind turbines, and solar panels. 

To encourage property owners to retrofit existing buildings with more efficient insulation, the proposal would exempt up to eight inches of external insulation from floor area or lot coverage limits. For new construction, the proposal would exempt up to eight inches of wall thickness from floor area calculations to encourage the development of new buildings that would outperform the City’s energy code.

Horizontal and vertical sun-control devices, such as awnings and screens attached to building facades, can reduce cooling costs and provide glare-free natural light. To encourage their use, the proposal would allow awnings above the ground floor to project two to six inches into required setbacks, yards, and open space, and permit screens to cover up to 30 percent of a building’s facade.

Rooftop elements, such as solar panels, greenhouses, green roofs, and wind turbines, are currently subject to maximum height and floor area limits. The proposal would, among other things, create a certification process to exempt certain greenhouses from floor area and height limits on nonresidential buildings. Wind turbines on buildings taller than 100 feet would be permitted to rise up to 55 feet above the rooftop. In certain districts, turbines on shorter buildings could rise up to half of the building’s height. Solar panels, skylights, and green roofs or other stormwater detention systems would be permitted anywhere below a building’s parapet, regardless of building height.

At the Commission’s hearing, representatives from the Regional Plan Association, the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, the Real Estate Board of New York, the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, testified in support. REBNY’s Carol Van Guilder stated that the proposal would align zoning regulations with private and public sector strategies to encourage green building.

Ilene Popkin, senior fellow at the Citizens Housing and Planning Council, recommended some modifications including that the Commission eliminate the certification requirement for nonresidential rooftop greenhouses because it would cause unnecessary time delays. In contrast, Viraj Puri, a cofounder of Gotham Greens, argued that the Commission’s oversight over greenhouses would be important to prevent the proliferation of misused and derelict greenhouses.

Some groups were concerned about the proposal’s impact on historic buildings. Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, suggested that existing buildings be required to undergo a professional energy audit prior to obtaining approvals to install retrofits in order to ensure that building owners choose the technologies with the lowest impact and highest benefit. Bankoff also recommended requiring that applications needing the Commission’s certification be reviewed by the local community board.

CPC: Hearing on the Zone Green Text Amendment (N 120132 ZRY – text amend.) (Feb. 29, 2012).

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