Revamping New York City’s Zoning Regulations In Support Of Small Business

Gonzalo Duran
Published on March 12, 2024, 1:24 pm
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On Friday, March 8, 2024, at 12:00 p.m., the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) and the Mayor’s Office of Ethnic and Community Media (MOECM) convened a press briefing to unveil the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity initiative, Mayor Eric Adams’s ambitious plan to revamp the city’s zoning regulations in support of small businesses and entrepreneurs. DCP Director and City Planning Commission Chair Dan Garodnick, accompanied by José Bayona, Executive Director of MOECM, provided insights into the proposal, highlighting modifications made in response to community input.

The City of Yes for Economic Opportunity, part of Mayor Adams’s broader “City of Yes” initiatives, consists of 18 proposals aimed at modernizing New York City’s commercial and manufacturing zoning. If implemented, the initiative promises to facilitate the largest expansion of space available for clean manufacturing in the city’s history, effectively unlocking an area equivalent to the size of Manhattan for new economic opportunities. Additionally, it seeks to address barriers hindering the expansion of over 17,000 businesses in industrial areas and aims to abolish remnants of the antiquated and discriminatory Cabaret Law still embedded in zoning regulations.

The briefing served as a platform to clarify the objectives and implications of the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity initiative. It also provided an opportunity to address queries from the media.

Key Goals of the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity:

1. Make it easier for businesses to find space and grow to lift barriers so businesses can be closer to their customers.

2. Boost growing industries to reduce obstacles for new types of businesses.

3. Enable more business-friendly streetscapes to deliver active, safe, and walkable streets for businesses and residents.

4. Create new opportunities for businesses to open to establish new zoning tools to boost job growth and business expansion.

Examples of a few of the proposals:

• Reactivate storefronts – Allow closed storefronts in residential areas to reopen. Today, in some areas, if a storefront is vacant for 2 years, it cannot be reoccupied. 

• Enable more small-scale production – Allow small clean manufacturing businesses in commercial areas. This would be the largest expansion of space available for clean manufacturing in 60 years, an additional area the size of Manhattan (14,000 acres). 

• No more unnecessary loading docks – Allow older buildings to adapt over time by eliminating mandates for loading docks where they are not necessary.

• Urban agriculture – Explicitly permit indoor agriculture in commercial areas. 

• Life Sciences – Allow regulated, licensed labs to expand near hospitals and universities. 

• Amusements – Better define and enable amusements such as arcades and virtual reality.

• Reduce conflicts with auto repair – With site plan review that keeps auto repair activity off of sidewalks and streets. 

• Campus commercial – Enable resident-serving retail, services, and maker-space at NYCHA and other residential campuses.

The City officials highlighted that out of 175 meetings with Community Boards, 16 out of 18 proposals received at least 50% support from the boards that offered proposal-specific

feedback. And 4 of 5 Borough Presidents recommended to approve with conditions.

Concerns were raised regarding potential bypassing of Community Boards. City officials clarified these issues, emphasizing that the proposal aims to strike a balance between streamlining processes and preserving community engagement and integrity.

When questioned about storefront vacancies, officials attributed closures to various factors, including affordability and city code restrictions. They assured that the proposed changes would address regulatory hurdles, enabling the revitalization of dormant storefronts.

Another concern raised was whether residential areas wishing to convert to business could easily switch between commercial and residential use. City officials clarified that such transitions would not be straightforward and would depend on several factors.

The press briefing concluded with an opportunity for further dialogue if necessary. With the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity initiative slated for review by the city council in a few months, we look forward to providing updates when available.

Gonzalo Duran
As a seasoned professional in both the military and civic realms, Gonzalo Duran brings a wealth of experience to his role as the Chief Executive Officer of Devil Dog USA Incorporated. A former United States Marine Sergeant, he not only leads a non-profit dedicated to supporting Veterans’ reintegration but also holds key positions in Bronx County’s political landscape, including Vice Chairman of the Bronx County Conservative Party and (C) District Leader for the 79th Assembly District. With over a decade as a CEO, Gonzalo is a multifaceted contributor to his community, excelling as an access producer, talk show host, columnist, chaplain, and advocate.