The Real Estate Board of New York to The Department of City Planning Concerning N 210406 ZRY (CEQR No. 21DCP182Y) - FRESH Update

Basha Gerhards

Senior Vice President of Planning

September 22, 2021

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The FRESH program was created in 2009 to “encourage the construction of supermarkets in underserved areas of the city,” after the city found many low-income areas had a widespread shortage of grocery stores and supermarkets, particularly locations that sold fresh foods. As stated in filing documents, the most recent analysis conducted in 2018 found that lack of access to fresh foods still a persistent in many neighborhoods, including those in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. All New Yorkers should have access to healthy foods, and it is within the purview of this commission to approve this text amendment to uphold its duty to ensure there are “adequate and appropriate resources for…[the] comfort, convenience, health and welfare of its population.”i

To encourage and facilitate the use of the FRESH program, the text amendment would provide greater access to healthy foods by reducing barriers for business owners seeking to open grocery stores in FRESH neighborhoods. REBNY appreciates the City’s acknowledgement of business and property owners’ concerns with the current program’s burdensome and onerous requirements. It is important that the text be amended to reflect these concerns by relaxing transparency requirements, adding parking relief, clarifying the zoning text to eliminate confusion, and removing certain requirements for deed restrictions, to promote the program’s use.

We encourage DCP to consider how the demand for FRESH food stores is distinct among varying building densities and neighborhoods and consider adjusting the proposed provisions created by this text amendment to prevent the oversaturation of FRESH grocery stores. The limitation on additional residential floor area generated by Fresh food stores within a 0.5-mile radius in this amendment is a blunt one-size fits all measurement that may inadvertently affect opportunities in neighborhoods that are separated by features such as highways, bridges, and rivers. A more nuanced approach such as applying the radius only to neighborhoods which have been identified as having a high concentration of FRESH food stores is worthy of consideration. Additionally, the new CAPA rules to define the queueing process for applications should be carefully considered to ensure that the prioritization system does, in fact, not turn away or put on hold legitimate FRESH food store projects, and that the process is transparent and predictable.