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Zoning Changes Will Help Co-op and Condo Boards Install Green Retrofits

New York City

Green zoning laws, City Planning Commission, building retrofits, co-op and condo boards.
Sept. 12, 2023

Co-op and condo boards struggling to reduce their buildings' carbon emissions just got some good news. The City Planning Commission (CPC) advanced a sweeping rewrite of New York’s zoning law Monday that would eliminate bureaucratic barriers to climate-friendly building projects. The zoning changes will now be aired at a public hearing, Crain's reports, then voted on by the city council. 

In a 12-to-1 vote, the CPC approved a package of zoning changes known as the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality designed to peel away red tape that makes it needlessly challenging for property owners to embrace green technologies in their buildings or on their land. The policies are designed to help the city hit its target of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050 under the ambitious — and controversial — Climate Mobilization Act.

“This initiative is the boldest, most thorough update of our zoning resolution related to the environment in its history,” says Dan Garodnick, head of the Department of City Planning. “Instead of being hindered by 1961 zoning rules that pre-date the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, this set of 17 zoning changes will clear the path for energy-efficient measures in nearly every aspect of our city.”

Under the proposed changes, if a property owner wants to install solar panels on their roof or high-performance walls to better insulate their building, the zoning amendments ensure that owners won’t be hampered by existing limitations in city regulation. Officials project the changes would also free up more than 8,500 acres of parking for potential solar panel use — enough renewable energy to power up to 130,000 homes. Electric vehicle charging would also be possible on 400 million additional square feet of the city, and green retrofits would be made easier at more than 50,000 buildings, including co-ops and condos.

All 59 city community boards and each of the boroughs’ presidents have reviewed the proposed changes over the last five months, with mostly positive feedback. Some members of the CPC who voted for the proposed changes expressed skepticism about the ability of the city’s electric grid to handle the increased demand as the city shifts from fossil fuels to infrastucture powered by clean electricity — that is, electricity generated by such renewable sources as solar, wind, hydroelectric and geothermal. CPC Commissioner Juan Osorio urged for additional data to be shared with New Yorkers.

“The public deserves more information regarding the energy projections used by the city to assume that the grid will have the renewables in place…when the additional demand created with electrification from buildings comes into play,” Osorio says. He pointed to reports indicating that New York City may be forced to rely on dirty fossil-fuel-powered “peaker” power plants, which are currently used during times of peak demand for electricity, usually during a heat wave.

Skepticism aside, it's likely to become easier for co-op and condo boards to install solar panels, EV charging stations and other retrofits that will help them meet carbon emission caps under Local Law 97, which goes into effect next year.

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