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Zoning for Accessibility

by YuhTyng Patka and Robin Kramer

A major amendment to the NYC Zoning Resolution is being proposed that would have far-reaching impact on timing and cost of construction for most developers whose properties are close to a subway or rail station. 

 The City’s proposal, called Zoning for Accessibility or Elevate Zoning Accessibility, is intended to improve accessibility to subway and rail stations.  This proposal would 

  1.  require easements from property owners to allow the MTA to construct an elevator or other improvements  on their property if the MTA determined that an easement was needed; and  
  2. expand the areas where floor area bonuses could be obtained where a developer constructs an improvement to subway or rail station accessibility.   

 The first proposed change would require developers of sites larger than 5,000 sf within 50 feet of a subway or rail station to obtain a certification from the Chair of City Planning before any building permit or foundation permit for development or enlargement was approved by DOB.  This required certification is likely to increase time and costs to the developer.  

 The purpose of the City Planning certification would be for the MTA to determine if an easement from the property to the subway station was needed.  If it’s determined that an easement on the development site was needed to provide additional access or other facilities, the property owner would be required to give the agency such an easement.  

 Where an easement was required, relief from certain provisions of the Zoning Resolution would be provided, including the following, among others: the easement area would be excluded from calculations of floor area; the easement area itself would be a permitted obstruction; maximum building height could be increased by 10 or 20 feet; street wall requirements would be modified; required parking would be reduced and on sites of 10,000 sf or less in certain districts, all parking requirements would be waived; and certain local retail uses would be allowed in residential districts within 30 feet of the transit volume.   

 The easement/certification requirement would apply in most R6-R10 districts, some R5 districts, commercial districts with a residential equivalent of R6-R10, and in manufacturing zones.   

The second proposal would expand the areas where a 20% floor area bonus would be available if an owner constructed “significant” subway station improvements and agreed to maintain same.  Such bonus would be available by authorization in most stations in R9 and R10 districts and their commercial equivalents in Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Long Island City and Jamaica in Queens, and parts of the Bronx.  It would be available both on sites adjacent to subway stations and, in certain cases, off-site improvements. Waivers from provisions of the Zoning Resolution would also be available by   authorization, including a waiver of up to 25% of height limits; height waivers of more than 25% would be available by special permit. 

 Neither the easement requirement nor the bonus would apply in certain parts of East Midtown and Hudson Yards; the bonus would not be available in certain parts of Long Island City. 

The proposed text amendment was sent yesterday to community boards for their comments; this is the first step in the zoning text amendment process.  The City anticipates adoption of this amendment by fall 2021.   

 The description above does not include all provision of the proposed text, but just some of the more significant.   It’s noted that amendments to the language of the proposed text change are possible between today and the actual approval by the City Council.  Accordingly, this proposal is subject to change and my office will be tracking it as it moves along the approval process.