NYC pol aims to curb Amazon-style warehouses

Council member would require political approval if size exceeds 250K sf

Feb.February 10, 2020 08:00 AM
Brooklyn Councilmember Justin Brannan 

Brooklyn Councilmember Justin Brannan

Politicians’ fight against Amazon is not over.

The e-commerce giant’s bid to build a Queens campus died a year ago, but warehouse projects have proliferated as e-commerce companies seek infrastructure to speed deliveries. And one Brooklyn official has had enough.

City Council member Justin Brannan is calling for a special permit requirement for large warehouse projects. That would give the Council power to stop the developments, which Brannan says are hurting the quality of life, especially in the outer boroughs.

Brannan wrote an op-ed in Crain’s last week saying they have led to “clogged streets, pedestrian hazards, increased asthma, low-wage jobs and the death of brick-and-mortar neighborhood retail.”

He is asking the Department of City Planning to “institute a special-permit requirement for all warehouse development over 250,000 square feet” to give communities and local officials input into when and how such projects come to their neighborhoods.

The move would force large warehouse projects subject to navigate a process similar to the city’s seven-month Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.

“A special permit means a community won’t be bulldozed — literally and figuratively — in the development process,” Brannan wrote. “Local leaders and elected officials will be able to consider the potential collateral damage to long-term plans for neighborhood development, and potentially be able to reach outcomes that benefit local residents, landlords, retailers, and even consumers.”

Other projects have triggered such proposals, some of which have been enacted. In the past two years the city has required special permits for hotel and self-storage projects in certain light-manufacturing zones, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration said earlier this year that it supported such a requirement for hotel construction citywide. The move would enhance the New York City Hotel Trades Council’s opportunity to unionize new hotels.

Members of the real estate community are not excited about the idea of having to negotiate with politicians to build projects, calling the warehouse idea yet another move to hamper development.

“I think the whole reason for having an as-of-right zoning is to avoid that,” said Thomas Donovan, a vice chairman and partner at B6 Real Estate Advisors. “The permitting process would only be a hindrance to business.”

If a warehouse would truly change the character of the neighborhood, Donovan said a permit process might make more sense.

Modern Spaces CEO Eric Benaim said requiring permits for large warehouses was one of a seemingly endless flow of new rules facing the real estate industry.

“They’re restricting hotel development. They’re restricting residential development. They’re restricting commercial development. They’re restricting commissions,” he said. “They want to restrict retail, and they keep on proposing all kinds of various types of limitations on people. So how do they expect people to do business?”

The city’s Department of City Planning threw cold water on Brannan’s idea, an indication that if he were to put it in legislation, the de Blasio administration would oppose it.

“Goods movement plays a key supporting role for the city’s businesses and the provision of services to residents,” said deputy press secretary Joe Marvilli in a statement. “Warehouses and distribution centers are allowed in the limited portions of the city that are zoned for industrial use.”

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