The Real Estate Board of New York to The City Planning Commission on Zoning for Economic Opportunity, ZR 24DCP004Y

Maddie DeCerbo

Senior Urban Planner

February 8, 2024

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REBNY thanks the City Planning Commission (CPC) for the opportunity to testify in support of Zoning for Economic Opportunity, ZR 24DCP004Y.

We strongly support the goals of Zoning for Economic Opportunity (ZEO) to make it easier for businesses to grow and locate throughout New York City by providing increased flexibility in our zoning regulations. The consolidation and reorganization of use groups is among several commonsense changes proposed in ZEO which will modernize the Zoning Resolution and provide simpler and clearer rules for businesses citywide to follow. This is not an easy undertaking, and the department should be commended.

Beginning prior to referral of the text for public review, our Zoning and Design Committee, comprised of the city’s top land use attorneys, practitioners, architects, engineers, and development firms with decades of experience in zoning matters, did flag three key areas for further work and consideration: the provisions governing life sciences, the proposed streetscape regulations, and the need for vesting provisions.

Regarding life sciences, we want to note the need to clarify the bulk modification special permit so that all labs are eligible for CPC approval, and the need for interagency coordination to issue supportive guidance from relevant City agencies that would provide needed regulatory clarity for those areas that lay outside zoning.

The City’s stated goals for the Economic Opportunity initiative highlight “the importance of flexibility in our zoning regulations.” Several features of the proposed streetscape regulations meet that test. For example, the regulations would create greater allowances for ground floor lobbies in many locations to accommodate contemporary residential and commercial building standards. We also applaud the provisions of the Tier A regulations which address blank walls and unattractive parking layouts.

However, other provisions appear to work at cross purposes with the goal of allowing more flexibility and enabling business-friendly streetscapes. As currently drafted, portions of the proposed Tier B and C regulations would impose new restrictions that would make it more difficult to accommodate the many building infrastructure elements that are located on the ground floor of a new building. Specifically, current local requirements and design best practices require numerous features on ground floors including demands posed by having to provide elevator cores, exit stairs, required mechanical space (particularly in flood zones), compactor rooms, building “amenity” spaces, waste containerization, all alongside required building areas like reception and mail/package rooms, as well as access to parking and loading.

The current proposal does not fully appreciate this complexity. First, within several Special Districts and within high density non-contextual districts already governed by streetscape rules for designated frontages, the proposal prescribes a “Minimum Qualifying Depth” of 30 feet for ground floor uses where existing rules do not require this, increases the percentage of street frontage that is regulated, and extends streetscape rules to all site frontages.

Second, it expands ground floor use requirements, minimum depth requirements, and other prescriptive rules to vast swaths of the city where such restrictions do not currently exist.
These regulations will be harder to meet, not easier, and create unintended consequences. REBNY therefore urges working with practitioners and industry experts in this space to refine these aspects of the zoning text to better achieve its stated goals.

Lastly, consistent with other zoning text amendments, we urge the Commission to include a vesting provision for in-process projects that will be impacted by the streetscape regulations and use group reorganization. Without doing so, projects will incur significant costs associated with re-design and will suffer delays in bringing new housing online amidst a housing crisis. Well-crafted vesting rules are needed to ensure that projects that are currently in process can move forward without delay. This request is not without precedent for wide ranging changes, and many of the same projects that needed the vesting by the Commission as recently as Carbon Neutrality will benefit from similar language here.

In addition to our testimony, we will submit an appendix with suggested technical fixes for consideration. We urge the Department and Commission to consider refining aspects of the text with industry experts.

REBNY supports Zoning for Economic Opportunity as an important effort to modernize the Zoning Resolution and provide greater clarity for businesses to grow and expand. In that spirit, more work needs to be done to ensure that the proposed streetscape regulations are simple, do no harm and appropriate vesting provisions are put in place to ensure a smooth transition.

Thank you for your consideration of these points.