New “green” zoning rules slated for December

Burden tight-lipped on details as experts mull 50-year-old zoning law

From left: City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden, Deputy Mayor Robert Steel and Paul Selver, co-chair of the land use department at law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel
The Bloomberg administration on Dec. 12 will unveil a set of 20 new “green” zoning guidelines aimed at removing obstacles to sustainable building practices, city officials said.

“This is the most comprehensive effort to sweep away impediments to green buildings in our zoning,” City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden told The Real Deal on break at “Zoning the City,” a day-long conference sponsored by the agency, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and the Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute of Baruch College, convened to address the future of zoning in the city.

She and Robert Steel, New York’s deputy mayor for economic development, who first announced the planned guidelines, declined to give specifics to the crowd of real estate pros, academics and city planning experts.

However, officials have briefed the Real Estate Board of New York on the proposal, according to Paul Selver, co-chair of the land use department at law firm Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel and chair of REBNY’s zoning committee, who was at the conference.

The proposal appears to focus on removing hurdles rather than providing incentives for green building, Selver said, noting that this isn’t so bad, considering state subsidies and federal tax benefits already provide incentives for sustainable development.

“There are things in zoning today that work against green building design,” Selver said, noting that current regulations often hamper efforts to install environmental features like solar panels and green rooftops.

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Steel was standing in at the conference for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was set to deliver the conference’s opening remarks, but was delayed by a press conference related to the cleaning of Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street protest. Police cleared protesters from the space — and reportedly arrested 70 of them — early this morning.

The conference, held to mark the 50th anniversary of the city’s Zoning Resolution, brought together roughly 200 academic, real estate industry and public sector experts to address the future of zoning in the city.

“We all work in the same realm, but we all have different views,” said James Ellis, a project manager with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, who attended the conference. The event represented a “powerful dialogue” between the influential decision-makers in the room, he said.

Some of the 20 speakers discussed ways to update the Zoning Resolution, passed in 1961 — the first major overhaul of New York’s zoning regulations after the city became the first in the nation to enact comprehensive zoning rules in 1916.

The intervening decades have seen numerous changes to New York’s economic and social landscape. Though the resolution has been amended — to add inclusionary zoning, for example — the process has been ad hoc.

In the last year, City Planning has attempted to make the zoning rules more accessible to residents by, among other things, launching an electronic database called ZoLa that lets users find zoning and land use information for specific properties, and by making the 1916 and 1961 resolutions available online.

Since 2002, the Bloomberg administration has approved 114 rezonings, spanning 10,300 blocks.

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