Yesterday, September 21st, as part of his City of Yes for Housing Opportunity initiative, Mayor Adams announced the third of three sets of proposed revisions to the City’s Zoning Resolution. In addition to previously announced plans to rezone Midtown South, loosen the rules for converting commercial buildings to residential, and create a multi-agency Office Conversions Accelerator, the Mayor’s new initiative includes a number of proposals, both new and old. According to the Mayor’s Office, these initiatives will allow the creation of 100,000 new dwelling units for 250,000 New Yorkers, a major step towards the Mayor’s overall goal of producing a half million new homes over the next decade.
Briefly, the proposals include:
Eliminate Required Parking for New Housing
Under this proposed zoning change, new homes will not be required to provide accessory parking spaces. Parking would still be allowed, but developers could choose whether to provide parking based on neighborhood market conditions and building finances. According to the announcement, current parking requirements add $67,500 per underground parking space to a development. At grade, parking lots eat up valuable area that could be used to provide more housing.
Universal Affordability Preference
This proposal is an extension of the Affordable Independent Residence for Seniors (AIRS) program, which allows a floor area bonus of about 20% for affordable senior housing. It would allow the bonus for all types of affordable housing, not just for seniors.
The Zoning Resolution would be revised to allow smaller apartments with shared kitchens and bathrooms. Current zoning regulations, which require larger dwelling unit sizes, prohibit such co-living arrangements. Changes to the Building Code and Multiple Dwelling Law may also be required to fully implement this proposal.
Town Center Zoning
According to the Mayor’s Office, in many neighborhoods across the City, primarily in the “outer” boroughs, zoning prohibits the development of commercial corridors – “Main Streets” – by restricting density and height. This proposal would allow additional stories of residential apartments over ground-floor stores and thereby encourage mixed-use neighborhoods and more affordable housing.
In many neighborhoods in the City, especially in eastern Queens and Staten Island, the zoning around subway and rail stations prohibits all but low-density, one- and two-family houses. Reinforcing the Town Center zoning proposal, this zoning change would allow apartment buildings between three and five stories near transit stops, while ensuring that such developments blend in with the larger neighborhood.
Accessory Dwelling Units
Borrowing from Governor Hochul’s ill-fated 2023 budget package – which was, in turn, borrowed from other localities, in particular California – this proposal would allow, in low-density one- and two-family neighborhoods, backyard cottages, garage conversions, and basement units, allowing seniors, young families and others on a fixed income to stay in the neighborhoods in which they grew up and grew old.
Converting Offices into Housing
Part of the Mayor’s previously announced zoning proposals, this proposal would create more flexible conversion regulations and extend them to any commercial building built before 1990 anywhere in the City where zoning allows residential use. It is estimated that under these new rules, up to 20,000 new apartments would be developed over the next 10 years.
Campus Infill Development
Under this proposal, certain zoning regulations would be changed to allow “campuses” – large properties containing multi-building housing developments (e.g., NYCHA housing projects), religious and educational institutions – to construct new residential buildings on the campuses’ vacant or underused space. According to the announcement, this would kill two birds with one stone; it would help address the city’s housing crunch, and also create a funding stream for the repair and maintenance of the campuses’ existing buildings. The proposal would facilitate approvals for such new infill development while ensuring that it blends into the context of the surrounding buildings.
Update and Modernize Zoning
The Zoning Resolution would be revised to allow more opportunities and greater flexibility to develop and enlarge existing properties. The “Sliver Law,” which limits the height of buildings on narrow lots, would be amended to allow such lots to comply with the Quality Housing contextual zoning height regulations. By Rosenberg & Estis’ analysis of the City Planning Department’s housing and property database, such revision to the Sliver Law would enable the development of up to 60 million square feet and 90,000 dwelling units.
Current zoning rules for the transfer of development rights from Landmark buildings, which generally allow such transfers only to properties that are adjacent or directly across the street, would be revised, presumably to allow such transfers more broadly.
According to the announcement, City Planning will release a draft scope of work and hold a virtual public information session where the public can learn more and ask questions. Following release of the draft scope, a public scoping meeting will be held, during which the public may comment. It is expected that the proposed revisions to the Zoning Resolution will begin public review by the borough presidents, borough boards and community boards in spring 2024, with final approval expected by this time next year.
The devil, as always, is in the details, and whether these proposed revisions to the Zoning Resolution will result in the target of 100,000 new dwelling units will depend on their details. In particular, it will depend on whether the net effect of the revisions will be to truly reduce and simplify the zoning regulations and not just exchange one set of burdensome rules with another. It will also depend on whether the state legislature approves a replacement for the expired 421-a real property tax exemption for affordable housing developments and/or other mechanisms to support these initiatives, such as funding and/or tax incentives to facilitate office conversions.
Still, the sum total of these proposals, in combination with those previously announced as part of the Mayor’s Get Stuff Built program, are significant – a sort of New Deal for the 73-year-old Zoning Resolution – and both the Mayor and City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick are to be applauded for tackling the City’s housing crisis head-on.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact your trusted Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. attorney or Frank E. Chaney, Head of the firm’s Zoning and Land Use Department, who authored the above.