Saving the Environment, One Zoning Amendment at a Time

  • Politicians are good at coming up with plans, proposals and white papers. The Bloomberg administration has been surprisingly good at enacting them.

    PlaNYC begat 127 ideas for making New York more sustainable and cutting its carbon footprint by 30 percent. This begat the Green Codes building proposals, released almost two year ago, with 138 specific proposals for improving the city’s environmental profile.

    The challenge has been enacting those ideas, which the City Council has been doing in bill after bill for the past year. Now, the Department of City Planning is getting in on the act, and yesterday it released a handful of new zoning amendments that will make certain sustainable building practices easier to do without seeking special approvals.

    It will take the standard seven months of public review for these proposals to take effect, but if they succeed, expect a lot more solar panels and greenhouses. It has not always been easy to build green in New York, which despite its self image is not always a leader in this field. The hope is, with these zoning changes, that can get a little easier.

    mchaban [at] observer.com | @MC_NYC

  • By certification of the Chair of the City Planning Commission, allow a greenhouse to be exempt from floor area and height limits, provided that it is located on top of a building that does not contain residences or sleeping accommodations. These greenhouses must not exceed 25 feet in height, must set back six feet from the roof edge, and must include practical measures to limit water and energy consumption.

  • On buildings taller than 100 feet, a wind turbine assembly may rise up to 55’ above the rooftop (including the pole and rotor), provided it is set back at least 10 feet from any property line. In addition, free-standing or building-mounted turbines would be allowed in commercial developments near the waterfront. Installations must follow all requirements from the Department of Buildings.

  • Allow existing buildings to add external insulation within the property line while exempting it from floor area calculations and yard regulations. This typically adds about four inches of wall thickness, but up to eight inches would be allowed to encourage highly efficient retrofits. For new buildings whose walls are substantially more efficient than required by code, up to eight inches of wall thickness could be exempted from floor area, encouraging high-performance buildings without changing the amount of usable space in the building.

  • Allow solar panels on flat roofs anywhere below the parapet, regardless of building height. Taller solar installations would be subject to limits on roof coverage and height. On sloping roofs, panels would be allowed to be flat-mounted (less than 18 inches high).

  • Allow low-lying features such as green roofs, recreational decks, and skylights anywhere below the parapet, regardless of building height. A guardrail no more than 30% opaque would be allowed up to 3-feet 6-inches above the top surface of the roof. Greater volume, similar to what is already allowed in many Special Districts, would be allowed above the maximum building height to accommodate modern bulkheads, with requirements for setback and screening of equipment.

  • Allow existing buildings to add external insulation within the property line while exempting it from floor area calculations and yard regulations. This typically adds about four inches of wall thickness, but up to eight inches would be allowed to encourage highly efficient retrofits. For new buildings whose walls are substantially more efficient than required by code, up to 8 inches of wall thickness could be exempted from floor area, encouraging high-performance buildings without changing the amount of usable space in the building.

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