Zoning for Economic Opportunity Aims to Remove Zoning Obstacles for Certain Types of Businesses

The Life Sciences sector has seen incredible growth in the NYC metro region. The Zoning for Economic Opportunity text amendment may change restrictions that make it easier for life sciences industries to expand and continue to grow. Image Credit: Tory Williams/EDC.

On Wednesday, June 1, Mayor Eric Adams outlined his, City of Yes initiative. This initiative is the next phase of his, Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent,” plan to stimulate recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. “City of Yes,” is built around a series of three as-yet-unwritten zoning text amendments to modernize and simplify zoning resolutions to encourage business growth, stimulate housing creation, and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.

“Zoning for Economic Opportunity,” focuses on increasing flexibility in existing zoning rules and eliminating bureaucratic “red tape” from the land use approval process. Mayor Adams specified removal of unnecessary geographic limitations on industries identified as integral to the city’s future. These industries are nightlife, which was the subject of a previous article, life sciences, custom manufacturing, and maker-retail.

Life Sciences

A June report by the Department of City Planning and the Economic Development Corporation identified the NYC Metro area as having the largest life sciences economy in the U.S. The report defines Life Sciences as applications created by the combination of biology and technology, and divides the industry into three main categories: manufacturing, research and development (R&D), and medical and diagnostic laboratories.

The City believes R&D and medical and diagnostic labs have potential to grow in the City because they tend to be concentrated in denser, urban areas. Currently, R&D is allowed in all manufacturing zones as well as some central commercial zones by obtaining City Planning special permits.  Medical and diagnostic laboratories, which include businesses like Quest Diagnostics and CityMD, are allowed in all manufacturing districts, most commercial zones, and some residential areas when accompanied by a special permit.

It is possible that the text amendment could make it easier to obtain these permits, or even eliminate their need altogether. This would create the kind of flexibility that Mayor Adams called for and would potentially allow R&D and medical and diagnostic labs to continue driving growth of life sciences in the city.

Custom Manufacturing

Custom manufacturing focuses on small-run, made-to-order products including clothing, ceramics, and medical and orthopedic appliances. They can be established in some commercial districts if they do not significantly interfere with neighboring properties, through things like noise or smoke, have a high value per unit produced, which minimizes truck traffic, and would derive some benefit from being located in a central business district. Otherwise they would need to be set up in manufacturing districts. The new text amendment could explore ways to remove some of these restrictions and make it easier for these businesses to meet the threshold to locate in commercial areas thus creating opportunities for new businesses to grow in new areas.

However, some established manufacturers don’t believe these text amendments will address their main concerns. Michael Saxon is Director of Operations at the New York Embroidery Studio, which makes clothes including custom embroidery and printed patterns. He agrees with the Mayor’s prospective zoning modifications but says there are things the City could do that would have a greater impact. He pointed to the Federal HUBZone program, which provides support for companies in underutilized business areas. Mr. Saxon says the current HUBZone maps do not reflect present circumstances and that the city could lobby the Federal Government to include areas like the Garment District, which has taken a hit during the pandemic. Mr. Saxon also would like the City to commit to buying locally and offer incentives to private businesses to do the same. Adam Brand, of custom fabric flower manufacturer, M&S Schmalberg, also located in the Garment District, made a similar point, saying his company’s biggest issue was pricing competition from overseas.


Maker-retail is not defined in the Zoning Resolution, but the term often includes 3D printing businesses, artisan and artist studios with a retail face, and pop-ups or storefronts that produce goods on-site or at spaces like Makerspace NYC, which provides its members with classes, space, and equipment rental for metal work, woodworking, textile, and other forms of fabrication. Unlike custom manufacturers, where production is made to order, maker-retail businesses produce products in small batches.

Mayor Adams outlined a scenario where a bakery in a residential neighborhood with a commercial overlay zoned for retail use, would need to relocate to a manufacturing zone in order to grow its business because the size of bakeries in commercial districts is limited by floor area. Similar restrictions currently apply to other retail and commercial establishments. Because maker-retail was specifically cited in the proposal, it is likely that any change in the floor area restriction would only apply to businesses where the production and retail components shared space.

Next Steps

As of now, there is no timeline for when the drafted text amendments will be released and begin the public review process. CityLand will give all sides a platform to express thoughts about the amendments once they are drafted.

This article is part of CityLand‘s ongoing series about the proposed zoning text amendments announced on June 1st by Mayor Adams. 

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



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