NYC Council Weighs Zoning Changes to Revitalize Local Businesses

The NYC Council considers the "City of Yes for Economic Opportunity" proposal to update commercial zoning rules, which have remained largely unchanged since 1961. The proposal aims to provide local businesses with flexibility to grow and fill empty storefronts, addressing issues like elevated retail vacancy rates.

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Bijay Laxmi
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NYC Council Weighs Zoning Changes to Revitalize Local Businesses

NYC Council Weighs Zoning Changes to Revitalize Local Businesses

The New York City Council is currently considering the "City of Yes forcity, unlock, economic, potential, empowering, ecoOpportunity" proposal, a Department of City Planning initiative aimed at updating the city's commercial zoning rules, which have remained largely unchanged since 1961. The proposal seeks to replace outdated regulations with clear rules that reflect the modern world, providing local businesses with the flexibility they need to grow and fill empty storefronts.

The current zoning rules have become anachronistic, with examples including: On retail streets like Vernon Boulevard, baking bread is allowed, but making salsa is not. Zoning rules govern where telegraph offices can go but are silent about cell phone repair stores. Local small businesses, like coffee roasters, are subject to the same zoning rules that govern large, polluting factories. Many storefronts that predate 1961 are not allowed to be reoccupied if they go vacant for more than two years. These rules have contributed to elevated retail vacancy rates in Western Queens and other commercial corridors around the city.

Why this matters: Updating commercial zoning rules can have a significant impact on the local economy and community character, as it affects the viability of small businesses and the overall vibrancy of commercial corridors. By addressing these issues, the city can promote economic growth, job creation, and a more diverse range of businesses, ultimately benefiting residents and visitors alike.

The impact of the outdated zoning rules is evident in the story of Donna Drimer, owner of Matted LIC, a gallery and frame shop on Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City. After operating her business in the neighborhood for 15 years, Drimer is now being forced to shut, store, years. "Somebody offered us a space half the size of what I have for 20 percent more than what I'm currently paying. Apart from that, there's nothing else. There's absolutely nothing else," Drimer said. "I did not expect to go out this way. I would love to have work for another 10 years."

The "City of Yes for Economic Opportunity" proposal aims to address these issues by providing local businesses with the flexibility they need to grow and fill empty storefronts. The changes would eliminate unnecessary loading dock requirements, expanding options for industrial tenants, and introduce new zoning tools to develop modern, job-intensive loft buildings for various industrial businesses. The proposal would be particularly beneficial for Long Island City, where the Business Improvement District reflects the importance of thriving commercial streets.

As Drimer prepares to close her Vernon Boulevard location, she reflects on the challenges facing small businesses in the area. "The rents are disproportionate to the traffic of the neighborhood. It's a horrible shame because it's a great neighborhood," she said. Drimer is currently exploring potential new locations for her business in other neighborhoods like Greenpoint, but the future remains uncertain. The City Council's consideration of the "City of Yes for Economic Opportunity" proposal offers a glimmer of hope for local businesses struggling to survive in the face of outdated zoning rules and rising rents.