By: Jean C. Lema
On June 21, 2017, the Urban Land Institute’s New York Young Leaders Group hosted a panel discussion titled “Zoning the City” to honor the 100th anniversary of the NYC Zoning Resolution of 1916, America’s first comprehensive zoning resolution governing the use and development of land throughout the city. The panel of industry experts discussed the new set of social, environmental, and economic challenges New York City faces, and explored ways of addressing the zoning limitations to help create a more equitable and livable city.
The event’s keynote speaker, Marisa Lago, Director of the New York City Department of City Planning and Chair of the City Planning Commission, made introductory remarks about New York City’s zoning resolution and how it continues to adapt to the challenges the City faces. Zoning serves as a community’s main tool to regulate the use and density of buildings. Lago stressed how real estate developers and the Department of City Planning have the power to create sustainable neighborhoods throughout New York City, while promoting affordable housing and economic development. Lago states the importance of searching for community-driven opportunities in targeted neighborhoods with revitalization and growth potential, illustrated by neighborhoods currently being rezoned – Far Rockaway and East Harlem. Lago believes the possible rezoning of East Midtown, a neighborhood no longer offering the building typology in demand, will bring much-needed development of new, state-of-the-art commercial buildings, specifically modern office space, as well as improvements to infrastructure, to the area. In closing, as the zoning resolution enters a new century, Lago reminds real estate professionals and community boards that “zoning is the language of the physical city, the zoning resolution has to continue to evolve with the city.”
Immediately after Lago’s speech, panel moderator, Elise Wagner, Partner in the Land Use Department at Kramer Levin, welcomed the members of the panel, which included:
Gail Benjamin, City Council’s past Land Use Director
David Brown, Director of Real Estate for the Archdiocese of New York
Marcie Kesner, Planning & Development Specialist at Kramer Levin
Jane Marshall, Senior VP of Residential & Commercial Development at Forest City
All panel members agree zoning is the tool that will define how New York City should grow. New York City has the power to create sustainable neighborhoods, promote affordable housing, and protect districts of historical significance. Marcie Kesner encourages real estate professionals to think about the future and view zoning as the master plan in New York City. The toughest task for a developer is to understand how to use zoning as a tool for planning, while addressing its limitations. The zoning resolution forbids and limits redevelopment in historic districts. David Brown believes New York City should reevaluate the zoning resolution’s restrictions and consider the value of landmarks. Zoning is an important aspect for the growth of New York City, but Gail Benjamin believes it alone is not enough since it is too complex. Developers are encouraged to also understand the needs of a community and work closely with community boards. To ensure New York City projects are beneficial for the community, Jane Marshall requests projects to “make planning sense”.
As a closing remark, Benjamin states it is important for developers to understand the audience and determine which amenities and projects suit a community.