The Real Estate Board of New York to The City Council on N230113ZRY, Zoning for Carbon Neutrality Text Amendment

Madeline DeCerbo

Senior Urban Planner

October 3, 2023

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REBNY members have consistently led the way in developing and operating high performing efficient buildings, which is why REBNY thanks the City Council for the opportunity to submit feedback in support of N230113ZRY, Zoning for Carbon Neutrality.

The proposed text amendment will remove barriers to successful sustainability efforts within the built environment. The proposal will achieve this by implementing citywide changes to zoning regulations to make building retrofit projects easier, increase use of solar generation systems, facilitate deployment of electrical vehicle charging infrastructure, and expand the use of energy storage systems. Importantly, the text will also support the development of critical grid infrastructure to unlock solar energy.

Zoning for Carbon Neutrality proposes to update the “Zone Green bonus,” a wall thickness floor area exemption, which allows walls that outperform the energy code to exempt an additional 8 inches beyond the first 8 inches of wall thickness from the floor area ratio (FAR). The proposal would instead allow a flat 5% exemption from total FAR for new, “ultra-low energy buildings” and existing buildings that retrofit to be fully electric. While this proposal aims to support Local Law 97 by incentivizing buildings to be fully electric, it also inadvertently jeopardizes many projects that are already planned with the existing Zone Green bonus in mind.

Typically, the Department of City Planning includes a necessary vesting provision to allow projects that filed an application with the Department of Buildings by the time of text adoption to continue under the prior rules for a set timeframe. In this case, and consistent with this practice, the City Planning Commission modified the Department’s original text amendment language to allow projects to utilize the Zone Green Bonus and receive necessary permits for one year post adoption of the zoning text. REBNY supports this change but strongly recommends the addition of a grace period of six months from the date of adoption for filing. The addition of this grace period to the Commission approved vesting language would allow projects that have not yet filed but have significant work under the old rules completed to move forward. This grace period for filing is consistent with the practice seen in new building code adoptions by the City Council.

The definition of “ultra-low energy buildings” also requires attention by the City Council to further align the definition with the energy code changes adopted by this body. At the time of this hearing, City Planning updated the definition of “ultra-low energy building” to require a 15% “better” site energy intensity (EUI) versus a 50% “better.” This change was done based on testimony by industry experts in engineering and architecture to reflect the new, higher baseline for energy performance required under energy code, i.e. you can’t do better than 100 percent efficient, and that asking for 50% better of an already robust baseline could be too challenging for many building projects, potentially discouraging investment in energy-efficient construction. The 15% improvement requirement encourages energy efficient buildings while making it more feasible for owners to invest in sustainability measures. This change should be supported by the Council but requires further refinement to include the proper ASHRAE code reference so as to avoid confusion.

Lastly, in addition to the modifications highlighted above, REBNY has included an appendix containing technical fixes for your consideration.

Meeting the aggressive decarbonization targets set by New York City and State leaders requires concrete policy changes such as Zoning for Carbon Neutrality. REBNY strongly supports Zoning for Carbon Neutrality and encourages City Council to adopt the text with the suggested modifications outlined today.

Thank you for considering these points.

Topics Covered

  • Sustainability
  • Zoning