If there’s one thing that community boards, developers and architects can agree on, it’s that the city’s zoning code is restrictive and confusing. So the Department of City Planning wants feedback from architects, planners and communities on its proposed zoning changes, which are meant to spur the construction of affordable and senior housing. The more controversial changes include:
- Increasing building height limits in medium- and high-density zoning districts (see the chart below).
- Reducing or eliminating parking for affordable and senior housing, but not for market-rate projects.
- Shortening the required amount of space between buildings on the same lot from 60′ to 40′
Community boards are very worried about raising height limits in neighborhoods with contextual zoning, like Park Slope, Crown Heights and the Upper East Side. During a panel this morning at the Center for Architecture, City Planning officials explained that the increase in maximum heights would encourage taller ceilings and give architects more flexibility in designing and distributing apartments throughout a building.
One architect in the audience applauded the height increases, explaining that it would allow him to design more dynamic buildings with green features. “With more height, I can integrate green roofs,” he said. “Finally there’s something that says you can eliminate eight feet of the rear wall and put it somewhere else, and that allows us to put solar panels on the roof. Gardens in the middle of the building and on the roof, which we can do when we don’t have to put mechanicals on the roof.”
Then there’s eliminating parking requirements for affordable and senior housing in transit-rich neighborhoods. Theoretically, it sounds like a great idea: developers and taxpayers don’t have to pay for expensive parking spaces, which low-income and elderly tenants are less likely to use. But it would only apply to subsidized affordable housing, not market-rate.
In reality, this policy may pit affordable housing advocates against people who want parking reform for both market-rate and affordable developments (as YIMBY discussed previously). Relaxing parking requirements for market-rate developers would reduce the costs of building citywide and encourage more development, particularly in neighborhoods with lower rents where projects might not currently pencil out because of parking costs.
When YIMBY asked DCP, they confirmed parking requirements for market-rate developments wouldn’t change. However, there are no parking requirements for new developments in Manhattan Community Districts 1 through 8, as well as the special districts in Downtown Brooklyn and Long Island City.
When it comes to the space between buildings, architect Michael Kwartler wondered how denser blocks would affect residents’ quality of life.
“What are you trying to accomplish with the space between buildings?” he asked. “Is it space, is it privacy, is it light? As the city gets denser, sunlight gets more important. It’s important for your health.” He added that the “tower in the park” model, which was the basis for public housing projects built in the ’50s and ’60s, created well-lit and cross-ventilated apartments with windows in the kitchens, bathrooms and living rooms.
Public review of the proposal should begin in the fall, along with review of the new affordable housing plan, according to Frank Ruchala Jr, deputy director of the zoning division at DCP.
To see the full presentation from the Department of City Planning, head over here.