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Council softens Adams' business-zoning plan ahead of likely approval

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The City Council is expected to approve the plan by Mayor Eric Adams’ administration to loosen zoning rules in order to encourage more business growth, but the council will soften several of the key components to pacify outer-borough lawmakers concerned about disrupting residential neighborhoods.

Negotiations on the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity plan were ongoing as of Monday, but a version of the package is expected to clear the council’s land use and zoning committees on Wednesday ahead of its eventual passage, people familiar with the talks told Crain’s. The full Council vote will not come until June, since lawmakers will need to send the modified package back to the City Planning Commission.

Council lawmakers have won some concessions from the administration: A proposal to allow corner stores in residential areas has been nixed, three people said. The idea has long been championed by reform-minded planners as a way of encouraging lively neighborhoods, but its removal satisfies council members who objected to the intrusion of commerce and doubted the feasibility of the approval process, which would have involved special permits for each store.

Another provision allowing life-science labs to expand more easily in commercial areas may be limited only to Manhattan, two people said. And a rule change letting people open businesses like barbershops and realty offices inside their homes is likely to be weakened by restricting the kinds of permitted jobs and the number of employees.

But the substance of the Economic Opportunity plan remains in place, as council members largely agreed with the Adams administration that the city’s regulations on business growth, published in 1961, are in need of an update. Other parts of the original plan include allowing “clean” manufacturers like 3-D printers to open in regular commercial districts, permitting “micro-distribution” delivery centers in storefronts to get the e-bike-heavy hubs off of sidewalks, allowing commercial activity on the upper floors of some residential buildings, and ending the role of zoning in regulating dancing — instead permitting dancing in the same restaurants and bars where music and stand-up comedy are already allowed.

“There’s kind of a conceptual understanding of what the mayor’s trying to do,” one council member said Friday. The full, agreed-upon plan will be released Wednesday, ahead of the committee votes.

Notably, the administration has also signed onto a set of policies pushed by lawmakers that aim to boost the city’s fading industrial sector. Those policies, added to City of Yes at the council’s request, are geared toward stopping the intrusion of regular commercial businesses like hotels and nightclubs into areas that had been zoned only for manufacturing, and will include a new category of “core” manufacturing districts where non-industrial use would be capped at 10,000 square feet, one lawmaker said. (Those limits would not be mapped onto any particular neighborhoods under City of Yes, but that step could come later through a rezoning.)

As of Monday, council members were still pushing the administration to make other commitments in exchange for passing the plan: Some want the city to more tightly regulate last-mile delivery warehouses for traffic and pollution problems, although any such changes would come outside of City of Yes itself.

And lawmakers have urged the administration to promise increased funding for the short-staffed Department of Buildings, which will likely be charged with enforcing many of the new rules.

The Economic Opportunity plan enjoys support from a slew of business improvement districts, chambers of commerce, and other industry groups like the New York City Hospitality Alliance and the Real Estate Board of New York.

But not everyone shares the view: A majority of the city’s 59 community boards voted against it in a public review that began last fall, and Republicans, a small minority of the City Council, have voiced staunch opposition to the new mixing of residential and commercial activities.

“Why are we making this a blanket coverage, broad-stroke, one-size-fits-all in every single borough?” Queens lawmaker Vickie Paladino said during a March hearing on the package.

In any case, the fight over Economic Opportunity is likely to pale in comparison to the battle later this year over the administration’s third and final plan under the City of Yes banner: Housing Opportunity, which would relax zoning rules to permit new residential construction across the city.

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Nick Garber , 2024-05-21 15:03:03

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