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Barrier to Recovery: How New York City’s Obsolete Zoning Prevents Property Owners from Reusing Land and Buildings

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Barrier to Recovery: How New York City’s Obsolete Zoning Prevents Property Owners from Reusing Land and Buildings

July 15, 2020
Urban PolicyHousingInfrastructure & TransportationNYC
EconomicsEmployment

Executive Summary

Real estate often leads the economy out of recession. Rents and sales prices fall, vacancies rise, and financing costs are low, all of which create opportunities for new investment and new uses for land and buildings.

In New York City, the current recession has likely accelerated preexisting negative real-estate trends and also put a stop to several positive trends driving business investment since the last recession ended in 2009. Restarting investment quickly should be a concern for policymakers. This report outlines zoning changes that will facilitate that goal by making it easier to reuse vacant space and redevelop properties that have lost value in a changing economy.

Even before the current recession, New York City was troubled by retail vacancies.[1] The pandemic will only exacerbate the long-term decline of the share of retail sales in stores and the rise of online shopping.[2] Several retail chains have declared bankruptcy, or closed stores. Postrecession, a temporary surge in retail vacancies and a long-term fall in the demand for retail space are both likely.

In New York in the past decade, a surge in the number of restaurants helped mask the long-term decline in the number of stores selling goods. This surge reflected the growing affluence of its population and the rapid growth of tourism. However, many restaurants will fail because of lost sales during the coronavirus pandemic, and new restaurants may take some time to materialize, as investors wait for health fears to wane and tourists to return. Thus, the restaurant sector will no longer be able to alleviate the retail vacancy problem.

The drop in tourism is likely also to cause some hotels to close. The city has seen a boom in the number of hotel rooms in recent years, driven by growing tourism and artificially spurred by ill-considered zoning changes. Now, with hotel occupancy plummeting, some hotels will go out of business, particularly in secondary locations.

Office space, as well, is likely to see rising vacancy, as some businesses fail and others cut employment or reconfigure space to take account of employees permanently working from home. The most desirable space in prime locations is likely to recover. However, in the last decade’s economic upswing, the city has seen the spread of office space—mainly through conversions of industrial buildings—to less traditional locations such as Long Island City and north Brooklyn. Some of these buildings may be difficult to fill with office tenants for some time to come.

Vacant space leads to disinvestment, blight, and lowered tax revenues. However, it is also an opportunity. Vacant space can be reused for new purposes or redeveloped with new buildings. A restaurant can become a bicycle shop. A hotel can become housing. A single-story commercial building can become an apartment building with ground-floor retail. Reinvestment in new uses for old buildings, as well as in new buildings on redevelopment sites, creates jobs and tax revenue and helps lead the recovery.

Unfortunately, New York City imposes a myriad of impediments to such investments. A 2019 report on retail vacancies by New York City comptroller Scott Stringer recommended speeding up permit and licensing approvals, in order to reduce the time that new businesses must wait to open.[3] This report will address another set of impediments, in the form of outdated and unnecessary zoning regulations. The Department of City Planning, which is responsible for keeping the city’s zoning up to date, should initiate a zoning text amendment that addresses these barriers. Some key elements of a zoning reform for economic recovery are discussed in this paper.

Residential and Commercial Parking Requirements

Many areas of the city are zoned for new mid- and high-density apartment buildings with ground-floor commercial businesses but are developed instead with one- and two-story commercial buildings, often predating New York City’s current zoning resolution, which came into effect in 1961.[4] These buildings have persisted largely because ground-floor rents were high and the returns from demolishing the older buildings and constructing new apartment buildings were not high enough to justify the investment. This economic calculus may be changing now, as low-rise commercial buildings have diminished income-generating potential, in contrast with residential, even with the prospect of a softer housing market. Thus, the other impediments to redevelopment, which include outdated zoning requirements that add unnecessary costs, may become more significant.

Despite having the nation’s best transit system and, especially in neighborhoods characterized by apartment buildings near transit, relatively low auto ownership, New York City imposes parking requirements on many types of new buildings, residential and nonresidential. Over the years, these requirements have been modified; but as city planners tried to rationalize them in a piecemeal fashion, required parking remains an impediment to new housing and new ground-floor commercial space.

The City Planning Commission first imposed residential parking requirements in 1950. Most pre-1950 apartment buildings were built without on-site parking. Parking requirements for new buildings were a response to escalating car ownership and the inadequacy of curbside space and private parking garages.

Over time, city policy has been responsive to car owners’ wish to maintain the ready availability of low-cost (or free) parking. Auto ownership continued to rise throughout the 1950s, and the 1961 zoning—which attempted to reconcile the city’s land-use framework with the advent of the automobile-oriented lifestyle—generally increased residential parking requirements.

The 1961 zoning encouraged a building prototype called “tower-in-a-park,” in which new high-rise residential buildings would be surrounded by copious open space. Half the open space required under tower-in-a-park rules could be parking, keeping parking construction costs low but producing a building more akin to a “tower in a parking lot.” Unfortunately, the building sites available on older commercial streets were typically only 100 feet deep and did not provide enough land to create the desired prototype. As the use of urban renewal to assemble building sites declined, the city was left with high residential parking requirements in its transit-served areas and no practical way to meet them, other than to construct expensive structured parking beneath new apartment buildings.

In the city’s more affluent neighborhoods, this required parking was profitable, but city planners and environmental activists were concerned that the city was encouraging car use in parts of the city where a car-free lifestyle was easy to manage. In less affluent areas, parking requirements represented an effective tax on housing—the parking did not pay for itself, and parking costs had to be factored in to sale prices and rents, or the government had to subsidize it.

The result was that less housing was built than would have been the case without required parking, contributing to the city’s chronic housing shortage. Over the years, city planners sometimes tried to disincentivize car use and allow more housing to be built. Since 1961, required parking has been eliminated in some of the best transit-served areas of the city: the Manhattan Core (south of 96th Street on the East Side and south of 110th Street on the West Side);[5] in Long Island City in Queens;[6] and for most new buildings in downtown Brooklyn.[7] Required parking has also been eliminated for affordable housing within a designated “transit zone,” representing most mid- to high-density areas of the city close to transit.[8] Off-street parking requirements have been reduced in many zoning districts that produce multifamily residential buildings.[9]

However, in many places, off-street structured parking continues to be required for new housing, even in areas—such as central and north Brooklyn and western Queens—where auto ownership is low, transit use is high, and neighborhoods are pedestrianized. To make matters worse, there are often commercial parking requirements for ground-floor retail establishments that are inarguably pedestrian-oriented.

Commercial parking requirements were first imposed as part of the 1961 zoning.[10] While the densest parts of the city were exempted, planners assumed that, with the expansion of the expressway network, even older areas that, at the time, had low car use and were pedestrian- and transit-oriented, would need much more parking for businesses. When the city enacted the Greenpoint/Williamsburg rezoning in 2005, it failed to rationalize high preexisting retail parking requirements in certain portions of the rezoning area, and this error has never been corrected.[11] Thus, some apartment buildings must be built with large parking garages for ground-floor retail, in addition to the residences above.

In other areas of the city that have not been rezoned since 1961, high commercial parking requirements have been retained in areas with good transit and pedestrian-oriented retail. The effect of these high parking requirements is to discourage the development of new apartment buildings with ground-floor commercial space, despite high demand. A good example is Queens Boulevard in Rego Park and Forest Hills, which is lined with one- and two-story commercial buildings on many block-fronts, despite having a local and express subway and a strong housing market. This is likely due at least in part to the combination of high parking requirements for new residences and ground-floor retail.[12]

Even without required parking, some new apartment buildings will choose to provide it because of market demand. This is noticeable in Long Island City, for example. Continuing to require off-street parking in transit-served areas does not serve any contemporary planning objective. At best, it subsidizes those who own and use cars at the expense of those who don’t; at worst, it is a tax—sometimes a prohibitive one—on new housing that the city needs.

Commercial Use Distinctions

Back in 1961, the drafters of the new zoning divided the city’s business districts into very specific classifications—local retail, local service, general (e.g., regional) commercial, restricted central commercial, and general central commercial, among others.[13] Each of these classifications was linked to lists of permitted uses, e.g., types of businesses that could locate there.[14]

The use lists were based on idealized concepts of what each of these areas should look like. They immediately ran into problems. Businesses continued to evolve, and zoning could not be amended fast enough to keep up with the changes. For example, on many local retail streets in 1961 the biggest store was a variety store, often operated by the Woolworth’s chain, which sold cosmetics, school supplies, and other nonfood items that people bought frequently. In local retail districts, such variety stores were limited to 10,000 square feet, whereas in the general retail districts, they could be any size.[15]

Within a few decades, the Woolworth’s company had declined, and drugstores evolved to assume variety stores’ role, selling frequently purchased goods. However, for drugstores, the zoning code made no distinction between local and general commercial districts. In all commercial zoning districts, they are unlimited in size.

As some store types became larger but others ceased to exist, the distinctions between local and general had less significance. Nonetheless, many of the original zoning restrictions have persisted and can be significant when space vacated in the current recession needs to be re-rented. For example, hardware stores, like drugstores, are not restricted in size in any commercial district. If a hardware store larger than 10,000 square feet closes on a neighborhood retail strip, the space cannot be re-rented to a clothing store or furniture store (which are restricted in size) but only to a drugstore or supermarket, meaning that it may stay vacant longer. Moreover, property owners may find that financing is harder to obtain.

Some distinctions are even more esoteric. Local retail and local service districts often vary from block to block on the same street frontage.[16] Yet these distinctions stop businesses from renting space—a bicycle rental shop or a dance studio must be in a local service district, not a local retail district.

The zoning treatment of health clubs is even stranger. These are not allowed in most local retail districts. In other commercial districts, health clubs are allowed only by special permit of the Board of Standards and Appeals, which is granted based on the bona fide character of the facility and the good reputation of its operators.[17] This approval process, which is costly for applicants, makes sense only if one knows the history: in the 1970s, illicit sex–related businesses operated in the city, masquerading as health clubs. The city has long since resolved this problem, but outdated zoning lives on, treating businesses where local residents exercise as potential community nuisances.

These outdated rules do not protect communities in any meaningful way, but they do set up impediments to starting businesses and renting vacant space. The city can ill afford to continue setting these roadblocks in the way of business investment.

Ground-Floor Retail Restrictions

While the 1961 zoning use lists were extremely specific about which businesses could locate in which block-fronts, city planners were not satisfied. In certain locations, even more specific rules were enacted. Such rules are unnecessarily restrictive, given the uncertainty about the future demand for space and rapidly evolving patterns of consumer spending.

The highest-density residential neighborhoods in Manhattan have special retail continuity regulations in locations where retail is permitted.[18] These specify that for predominantly residential buildings built after 1977, at least 50% of the ground floor on major streets needs to be occupied by specific types of businesses (mostly retail and restaurants but not banks or many types of services). Any business permitted by the underlying zoning district can occupy the other 50% of the frontage.

The effect of the regulation is to make renting vacant space harder for landlords. Building owners must juggle tenancies to meet the 50% requirement. A medical practice or dance studio would be turned away even if it were willing to rent the space. Given the proliferation of online shopping and delivery services, such efforts to micromanage the mix of businesses seem excessive—particularly since the pre-1977 building next door does not have the same restriction.

On a stretch of Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, similar, but slightly less rigid, rules apply, allowing a broader range of services in the 50% of the retail ground floor that is regulated. (In these areas, the dance studio would count but not the medical practice.) In contrast, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, more restrictive rules apply to all buildings, limiting the retail frontage of banks and preventing small stores from being combined into larger ones.[19] These special rules also make renting vacant space harder and prevent businesses from providing the services that local residents actually want.

Residential Conversions of Hotels

Beginning in the Bloomberg administration, New York City has experienced a boom in the construction of hotel rooms.[20] Historically, New York City’s hotel sector was viewed as underdeveloped and was dominated by full-service hotels, many unionized, and mostly located in Manhattan; in the post-Bloomberg boom, limited-service hotels have proliferated, mostly not unionized and located, to a much greater extent, in the boroughs outside Manhattan. The growth in hotel rooms resulted from, and helped facilitate, the expansion of domestic and international tourism, as cheaper lodging helped make New York an affordable destination for more travelers.

The proliferation in low-price hotels became a political issue in the de Blasio administration as the mayor, with the support of the city council, and at the behest of the hotel workers’ union, enacted zoning special permits that effectively stopped the construction of new hotels in many parts of the city. The most significant of these actions, in terms of the impact on the hotel industry, was the enactment in 2018 of a special permit for new hotels in light manufacturing districts.[21] While in principle, hotel developers could apply for one of these special permits, they well understood that a condition of getting approval would be to allow union organizing in the new hotel. Since the limited-service business model could not support union wages, benefits, and work rules, the special permit was an effective deterrent to new hotel construction. However, the zoning amendment included a generous “grandfathering” provision, allowing hotels that had received previous permit approvals to continue construction. This resulted in a huge burst of new construction[22] just in time for the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, which may leave a number of hotel operators insolvent. 

As of summer 2020, the timeline for the recovery of New York City’s tourist economy is uncertain and may extend for several years. Hotel owners, or their creditors, may search for alternative uses for the buildings, but these will be limited. Some buildings may be leased to the city or nonprofits to shelter the homeless on a temporary basis. Ironically, zoning sets a number of roadblocks to adaptively reusing surplus hotel buildings as permanent housing. For one thing, many of the new hotels are located in manufacturing or heavy commercial zoning districts where residences are not permitted.[23] Even those located in zoning districts that permit residences may not easily be converted to housing. Residences require deeper rear yards[24] than hotels—30 feet, rather than 20—and other standards may also conflict. Residences are also subject to density controls[25] that would prevent hotel rooms from being converted to individual studio apartments through the installation of kitchenettes. Instead, the building interior would need to be reconfigured, combining transient units into larger apartments. By liberalizing these restrictions, the city could reduce its inventory of unneeded hotel rooms and obtain much-needed new housing.

Residential Conversion of Obsolete Nonresidential Buildings

One of the more sensible and successful ideas that the City Planning Commission adopted to ameliorate the problems created by the 1961 zoning was to facilitate residential conversion of obsolete nonresidential buildings, with zoning changes that date from the early 1980s.[26] These rules, which required companion state legislation amending the Multiple Dwelling Law,[27] allowed adaptive residential reuse of older industrial loft and office buildings, which often needed substantial reinvestment to remain viable. The rules waived residential floor-area caps and requirements for the dimensions of yards and courts and the distance between windows and lot lines, which, as a practical matter, many older buildings could not meet.

The state legislation and the city’s zoning were not quite coordinated. While the state legislation applied to buildings constructed before 1977, provided that residential conversion was permitted by zoning, the city’s zoning change applied only to buildings that existed before 1961. A subsequent zoning amendment brought in buildings constructed between 1961 and 1977, but only for lower Manhattan.

The residential conversion initiative occurred when the demand for residential space was much stronger than that for office or industrial space. As the city’s economy strengthened, upgrades of older buildings for office use became more feasible and residential conversions less common. In the current economic downturn, demand for office space may be depressed for some time. Buildings constructed between 1961 and 1977 are now aging and may need reinvestment. As with surplus hotels, the city should consider making residential conversion easier for older commercial buildings by making the rules in lower Manhattan more widely applicable.

Manufacturing Zoning

In the zoning that existed in New York City from 1916 to 1961, no districts prohibited residences. “Unrestricted” districts allowed heavy industry but also allowed housing. This resulted in insalubrious situations where housing and industry were cheek by jowl but also provided a built-in alternative where manufacturing was in decline and housing was in demand.[28]

In 1961, however, planners created zoning districts that prohibited residences: the widely mapped manufacturing districts and the less widely mapped “heavy commercial” districts. The goal was to save manufacturing, then the largest sector of the economy by employment, by modernizing it. In 1961, most of the city’s manufacturing was located in multistory loft buildings, mainly in Manhattan, built to take advantage of access to rail and water transportation. However, in the postwar era, new manufacturing plants were horizontal in arrangement—single-story buildings oriented to newly constructed interstate highways. This necessitated the dispersal of manufacturing to the boroughs outside Manhattan. To encourage this type of development, the new zoning limited the size of new industrial buildings outside Manhattan generally to one or two stories. As in commercial districts, parking requirements were instituted, since many employees were expected to commute by car.[29] To make land available for manufacturing, new residences were no longer permitted to mix with industry; in fact, the expectation was that older residences would be redeveloped with new industry. Manufacturing zoning was perhaps 1961 zoning’s least successful idea; manufacturing employment rapidly declined as the anticipated highway network within the city was stopped by public opposition, and new interstate highways allowed businesses to relocate to much cheaper and larger vacant sites in the suburbs—and, indeed, outside the region—than could be found in New York City.

Much land-use planning in manufacturing districts since 1961 has been an effort to address the shortcomings of the 1961 framework, allowing a wider range of uses and responding to market signals about where investment was needed. These efforts, which resulted in the residential conversion regulations discussed above and major rezonings of areas throughout the city where active industrial use had largely ceased, were countered by other zoning changes in which nonmanufacturing uses were restricted in the hope that manufacturing would somehow revive.

In the past decade, the city’s economy has become much stronger and is based on services rather than manufacturing. While manufacturing has ceased to be a major source of employment, other forms of activity that used land in manufacturing zones, such as warehousing, distribution, and construction, had stabilized, and for the first time in decades, manufacturing-zoned land in some areas began to be valuable for industrial activities. Unfortunately, because of decades of disinvestment, much of the industrial building stock is antiquated, dating from the city’s manufacturing heyday, before 1930. Many of these buildings lack the high ceilings, wide column spans, and truck docks sized for tractor-trailers that characterize modern industrial space. Vacancies will rise with the economic downturn, and many buildings could be available to be replaced with more modern buildings, if it were only possible. The city now needs to confront the obsolescence of its own rules for new industrial buildings, largely unchanged since 1961.

One of the city’s rare industrial success stories is the Matrix Global Logistics Park[30] in the Bloomfield section of Staten Island, in which giant distribution facilities supply the needs of online shoppers. The complex, built on a long-vacant site that was once a fuel storage facility, includes an Amazon distribution facility that stands 53 feet tall to allow three mezzanine levels in a portion of the building, as well as a high ceiling on one level for the efficient stacking of goods. The city would presumably welcome more new distribution facilities, but in widely mapped manufacturing zones[31] in the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens, a 53-foot-tall warehouse would run afoul of height limits dating back to 1961.

The Bloomfield location is perhaps the largest lot in the city and easily accommodates hundreds of parking spaces. Other areas of the city have smaller lots, and accommodating large amounts of off-street parking is less easy. Even the relatively low parking requirements for warehouses[32] can be a problem on tight sites. The city needs to seize the opportunity for modern distribution facilities rather than cling to outdated parking requirements. The city’s remaining intensively used industrial areas are mostly not close to subways but are served by buses. Large employers can institute bus shuttles to subway stations. The relatively small percentage of employees who must drive can utilize on-street parking.

Summary of Recommendations

The city has an opportunity to reform outdated zoning in ways that facilitate the reuse of land and buildings and help it emerge from the current recession. The Department of City Planning should initiate the following reforms:

  • Residential and commercial parking requirements should be eliminated in mid- and high-density zoning districts where one- or two-story commercial buildings are available for redevelopment; a built-in customer population exists, or could exist, who will walk to retail and services; and commuters and customers from outside the neighborhood can use transit.

  • Transit-served commercial districts where one- or two-story commercial buildings are available for redevelopment but that are not zoned for mid- to high-density housing should be rezoned to permit such housing, and there should not be required parking for residential or commercial uses.

  • When lifting parking requirements and rezoning commercial streets, the city should not impose economically unrealistic affordability requirements[33] on new housing that would preclude private investment without public subsidy.

  • Zoning should allow a broad range of as-of-right ground-floor uses in all commercial districts, collapsing the distinctions between local retail and local services and between local and general retail. The effect would be that any use typically located within enclosed commercial storefronts could locate as-of-right in any of these districts.[34] Health clubs should also be an as-of-right, not a special permit use, in commercial zoning districts.

  • The distinction between local and general should be based on commercial density (floor-area ratio), rather than lists of specific permitted business types. General commercial districts allow commercial buildings with more than two stories, while in local districts, commercial buildings and the commercial portion of residential buildings are restricted to one or two stories.

  • Ground-floor use restrictions in mixed-use buildings should permit any nonresidential use and should not extend to specifying the type or size of businesses that must occupy an apartment building’s ground-floor street frontage.

  • Zoning bulk controls should be amended to facilitate the conversion of surplus hotels to residences, regardless of location or year built, and residences should be permitted in manufacturing-zoned areas where hotels have proliferated.

  • The special rules for conversions of nonresidential buildings to residences should allow the conversion of buildings constructed before 1977 in all applicable areas, not just lower Manhattan. The applicability of these special rules should be extended to manufacturing zones where older industrial loft buildings were converted to office space before the current economic downturn, but demand for such space is likely to be depressed for several years.

  • Manufacturing zoning should be updated to accommodate, in all districts, state-of-the-art distribution facilities with high ceilings and to eliminate required parking.

With interest rates at a cyclical low, real-estate investment has the potential to lead New York City out of the recession but only if regulatory obstacles do not stand in the way of investment. The package of zoning changes outlined in this report can unlock the underlying economic value of properties throughout the city and help the city return to an expanding economy.

Endnotes

  1. New York City comptroller Scott Stringer, “Retail Vacancy in New York City: Trends and Causes, 2007–17,” p. 8.
  2. See, e.g., Derek Thompson, “The Pandemic Will Change American Retail Forever,” The Atlantic, Apr. 27, 2020.
  3. Stringer, “Retail Vacancy in New York City,” pp. 19–22.
  4. The zoning resolution includes text and maps, which can be accessed at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/zoning/about-zoning.page. The Department of City Planning also provides an interactive map that relates zoning district boundaries to specific parcels of land, which can be found at zola.planning.nyc.gov.
  5. NYC Zoning Resolution, Article I, Chapter 3, “Comprehensive Off-Street Parking and Loading Regulations in the Manhattan Core.”
  6. NYC Zoning Resolution, Article I, Chapter 6, “Comprehensive Off-Street Parking Regulations in the Long Island City Area.”
  7. NYC Zoning Resolution, Special Downtown Brooklyn District, Section 101-50, “Off-Street Parking and Off-Street Loading Regulations.”
  8. NYC Zoning Resolution, Residence District Regulations, Section 25-25, “Modification of Requirements for Income-Restricted Housing Units, Affordable Independent Residences for Seniors or Other Government-Assisted Dwelling Units.”
  9. NYC Zoning Resolution, Residence District Regulations, Section 25-23, “Requirements Where Group Parking Facilities Are Provided.” These include reductions for developments in predominantly built-up areas in R4 and R5 Districts and for quality housing buildings in R6 and R7-1 Districts.
  10. Commercial parking requirements are found in NYC Zoning Resolution, Commercial District Regulations, Section 36-20, “Required Accessory Off-Street Parking Spaces for Commercial or Community Facility Uses.”
  11. The affected areas are Special Mixed Use Districts. Parking requirements are governed by the paired manufacturing district and can be found in NYC Zoning Resolution, Manufacturing District Regulations, Section 44-20, “Required Accessory Off-Street Parking Spaces for Manufacturing, Commercial or Community Facility Uses.”
  12. The residential zoning is generally R6 or R7-1, requiring off-street parking for 50% of dwelling units. The commercial zoning is generally C1-2 or C4-2, requiring one parking space for every 300 square feet of new retail space but one for every 200 square feet of supermarkets.
  13. Local retail = C1, local service = C2, general commercial = C4, restricted central commercial = C5, general central commercial = C6.
  14. NYC Zoning Resolution, Commercial District Regulations, Section 32-10, “Uses Permitted As-of-Right.”
  15. C1 (local retail) and C2 (local service) vs. C4 (general commercial).
  16. An example is Flatbush Avenue in the vicinity of Kings Highway in Brooklyn.
  17. NYC Zoning Resolution, Special Permits of the Board of Standards and Appeals, Section 73-36, “Physical Culture or Health Establishments.”
  18. NYC Zoning Resolution, Commercial District Regulations, Section 32-435, “Ground Floor Use in High Density Commercial Districts.”
  19. NYC Zoning Resolution, Article XIII, Chapter 2, “Special Enhanced Commercial District.”
  20. NYC Department of City Planning, “NYC Hotel Market Analysis: Existing Conditions and 10-Year Outlook,” p. 22.
  21. City Planning Commission, N 180349 ZRY, Oct. 17, 2018.
  22. I discussed the impact of the zoning amendment in Long Island City in Eric Kober, “Long Island City, Without Amazon,” City Journal, Autumn 2019.
  23. Manufacturing district use regulations are found in NYC Zoning Resolution, Article IV, Chapter 2. Use regulations for heavy commercial (C8) districts are found in Article III, Chapter 2.
  24. Minimum required rear yards for residences are found in NYC Zoning Resolution, Section 23-47; for commercial buildings, Section 33-26.
  25. NYC Zoning Resolution, Section 23-20.
  26. NYC Zoning Resolution, Article I, Chapter 5, “Residential Conversion Within Existing Buildings.”
  27. New York State Multiple Dwelling Law, Article 7-B, “Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artists, or General Residential Occupancy of Loft, Commercial or Manufacturing Buildings.”
  28. The Department of City Planning’s zoning history web page includes links to scans of the 1916 Zoning Resolution and the last amended version in 1960, available at https://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/about/city-planning-history.page?tab=2.
  29. Voorhees, Walker, Smith & Smith, “Zoning New York City, A Proposal for a Zoning Resolution for the City of New York Submitted to the City Planning Commission,” August 1958, p. 198.
  30. Matrix Companies, “Matrix Global Logistics Park.”
  31. M1-1 Districts. The maximum height of a front wall is 30 feet at the street line, and building height rises under a sky exposure plane (one foot of additional height for each additional foot of depth). NYC Zoning Resolution, Section 43-43.
  32. In most manufacturing zoning districts mapped outside Manhattan, the requirement is one per 2,000 square feet of floor area, or one per three employees, whichever will require a fewer number of spaces (NYC Zoning Resolution, Section 44-21).
  33. I discussed the problem of economically infeasible affordability requirements, as well as more workable alternatives, in two reports for the Manhattan Institute: “De Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Program: What Is Wrong, and How It Can Be Made Right,” January 2020; and “Zoning, Taxes, and Affordable Housing: Lessons from Bloomberg’s Final Term,” May 2020.
  34. In zoning parlance, the specific lists of retail and service uses in Use Groups 6 through 10 would be replaced by broad definitions of “retail” and “services.” NYC Zoning Resolution, Sections 32-15 through 32-19.

Photo by LeoPatrizi/iStock

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