Carbon Neutrality Zoning Amendments: New Opportunities for Developers and Property Owners

by | Jan 2, 2024 | Industry Updates

On December 16, the City Council approved City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality, a series of zoning amendments designed to further the city’s target to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. The proposal is the first of three major zoning changes put forth by the Adams administration. City of Yes for Economic Opportunity, which proposes significant changes to commercial and manufacturing regulations, is currently under public review. City of Yes for Housing Opportunity, which proposes significant changes to foster the development of new housing, is expected to be released later this year.

While primarily technical, the Carbon Neutrality amendments include several new opportunities for developers and property owners to reduce emissions and retrofit aging systems.

For Large Buildings

Owners (including co-op and condo boards) who have tried to introduce rooftop solar systems or retrofit existing mechanical equipment know that 1960s zoning rules have often been an impediment to these projects. The new regulations contain a few important changes to existing zoning rules designed to facilitate these upgrades, including:

  • Removing barriers to installing significant rooftop solar systems and increasing the overall size allowance for such systems.
  • Adding new rules for permitted obstructions to allow new electrical equipment (which tend to be larger than their fossil-fuel predecessors) in yards and on rooftops.
  • Expanding floor area exemptions to allow the reconfiguration of existing mechanical equipment without incurring a floor area “penalty.”
  • Expanding the floor area deductions for overcladding by 50% and expanding those deductions to full recladding projects and interior insulation projects.

For Properties with Large Parking Areas

The new regulations contain several new opportunities for owners to better utilize their parking areas, including:

  • Allowing solar parking canopies over open parking areas (even when those parking areas are required yards or open space).
  • Allowing shared EV charging stations in all parking facilities, like the existing car-share program. Importantly, existing accessory parking facilities could make up to 20% of those charging facilities available to outside users.
  • Allowing public parking lot operators to include space for electric commercial vehicle fleets and rental cars in all commercial and manufacturing districts.
  • Creating a new framework for public bicycle and “micro-mobility” parking in commercial lots.

The Housing Opportunity proposal is expected to propose a significant reduction in parking requirements across the city. We expect this proposal to create new development opportunities, especially in the outer boroughs.

For Developers

While most of City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality is targeted at the city’s existing building stock, some provisions will be relevant to new construction, including:

  • Creating new rules to facilitate automated parking facilities, which can be smaller and more cost-effective for new development.
  • Allowing energy storage systems within buildings as-of-right (discussed more below).
    Expanding rules for street-tree planting to allow porous paving and alternative planting designs (such as planters) in lieu of street tree fund contributions.
  • Streamlining the process for as-of-right rooftop greenhouses.

New Opportunities

The new regulations also present new opportunities for the renewable energy sector throughout the city. Some areas worth watching:

  • New allowances for standalone solar systems and allowing such facilities to serve multiple zoning lots as accessory uses.
  • Battery energy storage systems will now be as-of-right in all districts. Importantly, the regulations remove the Board of Standards and Appeals approval previously required for such facilities (other than those exceeding 10,000 SF in residence districts).
  • EV charging will become a permitted commercial use in all commercial districts.
  • New allowances and increased flexibility for onshore wind turbines in waterfront areas.

If you have any questions at this time, please feel free to contact your trusted Rosenberg & Estis, P.C. attorney or Frank E. Chaney and David J. Rosenberg, Of Counsel with the firm’s Zoning and Land Use Department, who authored the above.