“Carbon Neutrality” Citywide Text Amendment to Support Climate Goals: Public Review to Begin April 24

By , Senior Advisor

In conjunction with Earth Day on April 22, City Planning will be initiating public review of its “carbon neutrality” zoning text amendment to help shrink the City’s carbon footprint consistent with New York’s goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. These goals target an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to address issues of climate change and sea level rise. This text amendment is designed to help reduce the city’s reliance on carbon-based fuels, and as characterized by City Planning, “it would modernize the City’s zoning rules to make our homes, businesses, electric power grid and even waste streams much cleaner.” With these changes, for example, it will be easier to install solar and wind energy systems, and zoning would support a shift to electric vehicles, as well as the next generation of high-performance construction and renovation.

This is the first in a trio of citywide text amendments being prepared as part of the Mayor’s City of Yes agenda. Zoning for Economic Opportunity is targeted for public review by the end of the year, and Zoning for Housing Opportunity is slated to move forward in 2024. 

The Carbon Neutrality text amendments falls into four broad categories:     

Energy:  Wind and solar energy generation and energy storage is facilitated in order to reduce reliance on fossil fuel burning plants. Zoning changes would make it easier to install solar panels on flat and pitched roofs in all districts by increasing the allowable heights for rooftop solar panels and providing greater flexibility. Solar awnings would also be allowed to cover open accessory parking, and rules would be eased to expand throughout the city where standalone solar generation facilities would be permitted.  With the goal of promoting alternative clean energy, a zoning mechanism would also be created to allow the City Planning Commission to consider applications for relief from height restrictions on wind turbine facilities. To further support a distributed energy network, new rules would allow energy storage systems in most zoning districts. This is a key element toward  “decarbonizing” the grid.

Buildings: With over one million buildings in New York City, they are the largest sources of carbon emissions. Zoning has a role to play in supporting mandates and efforts to reduce carbon emissions from buildings. A key element is retrofitting mechanical equipment as boilers are replaced with rooftop heat pumps and other equipment. To provide greater flexibility and ease zoning limitations on rooftop equipment, rules that now apply only in floodplains, would be extended citywide. Rules would also be changed so that buildings are not precluded or penalized by retrofitting to more energy efficient building envelopes. More flexibility would be provided in recladding retrofits, and promoting buildings that perform better than code. 

Transportation:  According to City Planning, less than 1 percent of the two million cars registered in the city are zero-emission vehicles. While the city will continue to promote alternative forms of transportation, one of the major impediments to growth of Electric Vehicles is the limited locations for charging. Zoning regulates the location of charging stations on zoning lots (as opposed to on the street, which is the jurisdiction of DOT). New rules would allow “open-to-the public” charging stations in all commercial districts in the city, doubling the land area available for these facilities. Other changes would provide more flexibility for parking facilities to accommodate car sharing and EV charging stations. New rules would also extend to all areas outside the Manhattan Core, flexibility to provide automated parking facilities. A new commercial use would also be created to allow for public bicycle and e-mobility and charging uses, including providing for secure outdoor storage on the zoning lot.

Waste and Stormwater :   Over the years, the City has made considerable strides in reducing stormwater runoff and other measures to green the environment. To reduce ambiguity, these rules would make clear that permeable paving is always allowed. New rules would also allow flexibility in how street tree planting requirements are met to promote high performance tree pits. Food production would be encouraged by eliminating the Commission certification for rooftop greenhouses on non-residential buildings; they would be allowed entirely as-of-right. Regulations for composting and recycling would also be clarified. Small scale recycling would now be considered a neighborhood use.

Taken together, these zoning rules would help promote a greener and more sustainable city with a reduced carbon footprint, and help advance the city’s “80 by 50” goals for greenhouse gas reductions.

At Capalino, we will continue to follow the progress of this text amendment as it moves through the public review process, which requires both City Planning Commission and City Council approvals. We are also tracking the future Economic Opportunity and Housing Opportunity text amendments. All three amendments will affect property and building owners.  Let us know how we can be helpful if you would like further information.

Richard Barth

About the Author

Richard Barth

Richard is a Senior Advisor for Capalino’s real estate group. As the former Executive Director of the New York City Planning Department, Richard has more than 30 years of experience in land use planning, public policy, and community development.

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