These changes would help landlords meet carbon cap

The City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality text amendment includes 17 proposals

City Planning Chair Dan Garodnick and the solar canopies at Whole Foods in Gowanus
City Planning Chair Dan Garodnick and the solar canopies at Whole Foods in Gowanus (Getty; BL Companies)

A series of zoning changes may help landlords comply with New York City’s strict emission caps. 

The Adams administration last week kick-started the review of the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality, a text amendment that includes 17 changes to make it easier to retrofit buildings and install green energy technology.

Some of the changes could make it easier for some building owners to comply with the city’s Local Law 97, according to local officials and proponents of the measure.

“With very serious carbon reduction goals coming down the pike, we believe more building owners will not only want but need to take advantage of these opportunities,” City Planning Chair Dan Garodnick said.

Local Law 97 created emission limits for buildings larger than 25,000 square feet, with fines for violators starting next year. The measure, which the real estate industry complains is impossible for some buildings to comply with, was intended to help the city reach its goal of cutting emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050.

City Planning estimates that the text amendment, if the City Council approves it, would enable environment-focused upgrades at 50,000 buildings.

The amendment would by no means be a silver bullet for Local Law 97 compliance, but would eliminate some obstacles to retrofitting buildings. The changes include making it easier to store mechanical equipment associated with building electrification, such as heat pumps, on rooftops or elsewhere on the property.

Taken together, it is using zoning as part of the larger 80-by-50 effort. And I think they are all excellent,” said Mitch Korbey, who chairs the law firm Herrick Feinstein’s land use and zoning group.

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To encourage re-cladding of buildings, the amendment would also change rules governing how building envelopes are counted toward a property’s total floor area.

Under current zoning, up to eight inches of a building’s exterior wall are discounted from the total floor area if cladding is added to the outside face of the wall. The amendment would increase that to 12 inches and would enable other strategies used to improve insulation, such as re-cladding with efficient material or adding insulation to interior walls.

This really allows for the building envelope to be much more efficient,” said Jolie Milstein,  president and chief executive officer of the New York State Association for Affordable Housing.

The text amendment also would create a process for City Planning to review applications for taller wind-energy systems along the waterfront. Another tweak would allow solar panels to cover more surface area on rooftops (100 percent of flat rooftops, up from 25 percent). It would also allow solar canopies, like the 324-kilowatt system at Whole Foods in Gowanus, above parking lots across the city.

The proposal has the backing of Milstein’s group, the New York chapter of the League of Conservation Voters and Urban Green Council, whose board includes several real estate professionals.

No opposition has emerged, but the public review process can run up to seven months.

“We’ve gotten a positive early reception from stakeholders and elected officials,” Garodnick said. “But this is an ambitious proposal and we don’t want to take anything for granted.”

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