City of Yes – Zoning for Economic Opportunity Enters Public Review

November 2, 2023

Herrick's Land Use & Zoning Team has learned that the second set of city-wide zoning changes under City of Yes for Economic Opportunity was Certified by the City Planning Commission on October 30th, 2023. The public review process will now begin. The proposed zoning text amendment aims to introduce flexibility and clarity to the city's complex, restrictive and antiquated zoning regulations. These changes are designed to bolster local entrepreneurs, invigorate commercial corridors, and reduce retail vacancy rates. The proposed zoning changes will address four categories as follows:

Expanding Business Location Options

  • This citywide text proposal would lift barriers regarding where businesses can locate, making it easier for businesses to find space and grow. See below for examples of existing outdated restrictions that may be lifted:
    • Allowing for more commercial activity: Current zoning rules prohibit certain common neighborhood service businesses on the ground floor of commercial streets, as well as commercial uses on the same level as residences. The proposal seeks to expand permitted commercial activity by allowing all permitted commercial uses to locate on the ground floor in major business districts (e.g., Midtown, 125th Street in Harlem, Main Street Flushing). Additionally, the proposal seeks to allow commercial uses on the second floor of residential buildings in all commercial districts, and, in higher density commercial districts, allow commercial uses above or on the same level as residences; and
    • Simplifying rules on permitted types of businesses: Current zoning rules contain arbitrary distinctions between similar zoning districts regarding allowable Use Groups. The proposal seeks to allow the same uses in similar districts, such as aligning C1/C2 districts with each other, and C4/C5/C6 districts with each other.

Supporting Growing Industries

  • This citywide text proposal is geared towards facilitating the expansion of certain high-growth industries. See below for examples of targeted industries:
    • Life Sciences: The proposal seeks to provide laboratories with greater flexibility to expand near hospitals and universities. For instance, a redefined Use Group 7 would consolidate offices and laboratories into the same category, permitting the same range of these uses in C1/C2 districts and C4/C5/C6 districts;
    • Nightlife: The proposal aims to support nightlife with common-sense live entertainment rules. For example, in C1 through C3 districts, comedy clubs and dancing would be permitted where music is allowed; and
    • Home-Based Businesses: The proposal will remove currently prohibited business types from permitted home occupation uses and will expand the size allowance for such businesses from 25% to 49%.

Enabling Business-Friendly Streetscapes

  • This citywide text proposal seeks to promote active, safe and walkable streets. See below for examples of changes intended to accomplish these goals:
    • Corner Stores: Current zoning rules prohibit all new stores in residential areas, limiting the availability of neighborhood services. The proposal will empower the City Planning Commission to grant exceptions for new small stores to open in residential areas and at large-scale development sites; and
    • Ground Floor Design Requirements: Outside of Manhattan and in some Special Purpose Districts, current zoning rules do not prescribe ground floor design conditions. The proposal borrows concepts from Special Purpose Districts and will apply them citywide to more comprehensively regulate streetscapes (e.g., limiting the length of blank walls, restricting open parking between buildings and sidewalks, screening ground floor parking).

Create New Opportunities for Businesses to Open

  • Vacancy Reactivation: Current zoning rules for certain Residence and Historic Districts prohibit stores that have been vacant for more than two years from being reoccupied. The proposal would allow for the reoccupation of commercial storefronts in all Residence and Historic Districts, regardless of the duration of prior vacancy; and
  • New Zoning Districts for Future Job Hubs: The proposal seeks to create a range of new job-intensive zoning districts to allow for modern loft-style buildings, by permitting higher densities, more flexibility on permitted building form, and right-sized parking and loading requirements.

It is important to note that this city-wide zoning text amendment will now undergo public review, including multiple public hearings, and may be subject to change. We anticipate that the text amendment will finish the public review process and be voted upon in Q1 2024.  We will continue to diligently monitor this initiative and provide updates as more details emerge.

Click the following links for Herrick’s articles on the related City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality and City of Yes for Housing Opportunity text amendments.

For more information on this issue or other land use & zoning matters, please contact:

Mitchell A. Korbey at +1 212 592 1483 or [email protected]
Robert Huberman at +1 212 592 1592 or [email protected]
Joshua D. Koss at +1 212 592 5948 or [email protected]

© 2023 Herrick, Feinstein LLP. This alert is provided by Herrick, Feinstein LLP to keep its clients and other interested parties informed of current legal developments that may affect or otherwise be of interest to them. The information is not intended as legal advice or legal opinion and should not be construed as such.