Real estate industry calls sewage-overflow bill “extreme”

Legislation would limit impermeable surfaces at building sites

New York /
Feb.February 12, 2021 04:44 PM
Queens Council member Costa Constantinides is sponsoring the bill. (Getty, Costa Constantinides)

Queens Council member Costa Constantinides is sponsoring the bill. (Getty, Costa Constantinides)

 

The City Council is pushing a bill to limit how much asphalt can cover a development site, but real estate professionals say it ignores the realities of building in the city.

The measure, sponsored by Queens Council member Costa Constantinides, would cap the percentage of material that doesn’t absorb rainwater, such as asphalt or concrete, covering building sites.

For future projects, no more than half of a lot could be impermeable, according to the bill. Existing development above the 50 percent threshold would be grandfathered but could not be made any more impermeable. Gas stations and certain industrial sites would be exempt.

Constantinides is trying to reduce how much raw sewage flows into the city’s waterways. Much of the city has a combined sewer system, meaning rainwater and sewage flow into the same pipes, which get overwhelmed during rainfalls. To prevent untreated waste from backing up into homes and streets, it is diverted into the Gowanus Canal, Newtown Creek, East River and numerous other waterways.

But the Real Estate Board of New York said his bill applies a one-size-fits-all approach to entirely different areas — whether they are high-density or low-scale, or prone to sewage overflows or not.

And what would happen, the trade group asked, if a below-grade room had a permeable surface above it?

There are surely other problems with the bill that no one has contemplated yet, the group added.

“This is by no means exhaustive given the complexities of designing these systems and the variety of below-grade conditions,” the group wrote in testimony submitted at a hearing on the bill this week. “Further study and outreach is necessary.”

The New York Coalition of Code Consultants, whose members help secure project approvals, called the measure “extreme” and said it would restrain development.

“New York City may be a concrete jungle, but residents also live sustainability through dense housing and take advantage of walkability, proliferating bike lanes and public transportation,” the group testified. “There are ways to encourage more sustainable development without completely stifling new construction.”

The bill, introduced in 2018, is part of an effort to make the city more resilient to climate change. Late last year, the City Planning Commission launched a public review of a proposal to address coastal flood resiliency through zoning.





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