Adams’ City of Yes business plan nears approval after modest changes

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Lawmakers tweaked the mayor’s proposed rules clarifying the kinds of businesses people can operate out of their homes — the result will cap the allowable size at 1,000 square feet and reduce the number of permitted employees from three to just one. Another proposal allowing commercial uses on the upper floors of mixed-use buildings has been changed to ban rooftop bars above apartments and require that “amusement uses” only be below, not above, residences.

Provisions making it easier for life science labs to open in regular commercial districts, and to expand their footprints near hospitals and universities, will be preserved — with the only change being to ban new labs in some mixed-use neighborhoods outside of Manhattan.

The council’s changes came in response to concerns it heard from community boards, said Bronx lawmaker Kevin Riley, chair of the zoning subcommittee. Board members said they feared noisy commercial uses and transforming neighborhoods into mixed-use districts. A full text of the revisions was not immediately available, although the council released a 5-page summary on Wednesday.

Some of the most consequential new policies could come from outside City of Yes itself. As part of the negotiations, the council secured a promise from the Adams administration to advance a separate zoning change requiring a special permit for last-mile delivery facilities, which have roiled some outer-borough neighborhoods over concerns about pollution and truck traffic. The process of creating the new permit will begin by March 2025, the council announced, and the administration will also work with the council on legislation to regulate emissions linked to warehouses.

The administration also committed to budgeting $4.7 million for 60 new Department of Buildings staffers who will enforce some of the new rules through a “proactive enforcement program,” according to the summary document released by the council. Lawmakers had pressed the administration to beef up resources for the short-staffed agency.

The council made mild changes to most of the other Economic Opportunity proposals. A policy allowing “clean” manufacturers like ceramic studios and jewelry makers to open in commercial districts was modified to add a 3,000-square-foot limit in mixed-use districts, down from 5,000 square feet in the original plan. The council also added a ban on some manufacturing that involves chemicals, machinery, metal and paper.

A proposal allowing indoor agriculture in commercial districts was changed to ban indoor cultivation of cannabis, and a section allowing micro-distribution delivery hubs to open in storefronts will now require a special permit outside of Manhattan. Another rule removing a ban on re-occupying vacant storefronts in historic districts was tweaked to allow only small-scale retail, not bigger businesses like department stores.

The agreed-upon package also includes the reforms pushed by lawmakers that aim to protect the city’s industrial sector — and the middle-class jobs that it promises — from intrusion by commercial businesses. The reforms include creating a new category of manufacturing district where all commercial uses would be limited to 10,000 square feet per lot, and banning big-box retail in new manufacturing districts.

Riley, explaining the decision to nix the corner-store provision, said lawmakers objected to any “blanket approach that treats all residential neighborhoods the same,” which he called “not sound land-use planning.”

Mayor Adams, in a statement, said Wednesday’s votes advanced his goal of rebuilding the city’s economy.

“This historic initiative will remove outdated limitations on businesses and ensure that local retail streets and commercial centers across the city remain lively places that sustain our neighborhoods,” Adams said.

Wednesday’s no-votes all came from Staten Island’s three council members, including Democrat Kamillah Hanks, who is typically a relative ally of the mayor’s. That dissent could be a sign of things to come for the mayor’s more contentious third City of Yes plan, focused on housing, which is expected to face serious opposition when it reaches the council later this year.

Join Crain’s on June 12 for an evening of networking, deal-making and a live interview with city Planning Director Dan Garodnick, the architect of the City of Yes business plan. Get your ticket here.

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