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BP Reynoso Recommends Review of City of Yes Zoning Plan

Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso is recommending a public review to approve the modifications of Mayor Eric Adams’ City of Yes for Housing Opportunity zoning amendments.
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Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso is recommending a public review to approve the modifications of Mayor Eric Adams’ City of Yes for Housing Opportunity zoning amendments.

Reynoso recommends significant adjustments to ensure the amendment maximizes opportunities for new housing around transit, deepens affordability, and encourages every neighborhood to do their part in building our way out of the housing crisis. Measures include the redefinition of Inner and Outer Transit Zones, the creation of additional Core Transit Zones and increased density opportunities.

In his recommendation, he said his support for City of Yes for Housing Opportunity is contingent upon the legalization of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). If legalizing ADUs is removed as a proposal, Borough President Reynoso will withdraw his support for the amendment in its entirety.

“We need to be realistic about what City of Yes for Housing Opportunity is and what it is not," Borough President Reynoso said on the NYC Department of City Planning’s (DCP) proposed zoning text amendment.

"It is not an affordability strategy, it is not a production plan, and it is not a panacea for our city’s housing crisis. City of Yes is remarkably modest; DCP testified that the package will add less than one additional unit per acre across New York City.

"This is at a time when homelessness has reached the highest level since the Great Depression, and more than half of New York City renters are rent-burdened – losing 30% or more of their income to rent. In the face of growing housing insecurity, New Yorkers deserve honest policy – and the truth is that City of Yes is all about possibility when what we need is a promise. It is a zoning solution to a planning problem. It is a mere chapter in a much larger book. Do we need it? Yes. But do we need a citywide comprehensive plan more? Absolutely."

Several proposals within City of Yes for Housing Opportunity revolve around a “Greater Transit Zone,” which amends the existing Transit Zone that was established in 2016. The existing Transit Zone established in 2016 loosely corresponds with the subway network; however, in Brooklyn, several neighborhoods are excluded from the zone altogether including much of Borough Park, Brighton Beach, Bensonhurst, and the entirety of Bay Ridge.

Reynoso said he supports the general effort to fill in these gaps but believes that these areas should have been included in the Transit Zone from the beginning and therefore should be incorporated into the Inner Transit Zone. Reynoso calls on the City of Yes as an opportunity to correct unclear and arbitrary exclusions of the past and clearly state a land use rationale for what the Inner and Outer Transit Zones represent going forward.

He also believes an additional “core” geography should be expanded to Brooklyn and other outer boroughs to further facilitate transit-oriented development near significant transit and jobs hubs such as Downtown Brooklyn, Atlantic Terminal, and the Northside of Williamsburg.

There is already precedent for Core Transit Zones in the Zoning Resolution: the Manhattan Core and Long Island City geographies include various controls on parking. Reynoso believes this precedent should be extended to Brooklyn.

By implementing these changes, the Greater Transit Zone would therefore be composed of three parts: Core Transit Zones, defined as transit and job hubs. The Inner Transit Zone, defined as all parts of the city with access to the subway and rail network. The Outer Transit Zone, defined as all parts of the city with access to frequent bus service, but beyond the extent of the rail network.

The potential for growth in Brooklyn facilitated by City of Yes for Housing Opportunity is surprisingly modest. Reynoso recommends DCP strengthen City of Yes for Housing Opportunity by encouraging greater density and making the following modifications. While there are nearly 90,000 parcels identified in Brooklyn’s low-density districts within DCP’s proposed Greater Transit Zone, fewer than 4,000 meet the criteria of being larger than 5,000 square feet and being located either on the short end of a block or facing a wide street.

In many cases, the buildings on these parcels are currently overbuilt. Of the 3,637 eligible parcels in Brooklyn, one quarter are currently overbuilt and would remain overbuilt with the new proposed densities. No new development would be facilitated by the proposed changes at these sites. The fact that a quarter of eligible sites would still be overbuilt after the proposed changes shows that buildings of this scale are already common in these areas of the borough.

At another quarter of eligible parcels, a portion of the proposed density bonus would be eaten up by merely legalizing the existing building. At many of these sites, the new floor area leftover after legalizing the existing density would be small, and also unlikely to facilitate any new construction.

Although the proposal is adding 4.6 million square feet of residential floor area to these overbuilt lots, this area is only estimated to allow a little over 5,000 residential units. While critical to bring existing units into compliance, we should be clear-eyed that additional zoning capacity is needed to unlock additional development in these areas. Reynoso also recommends that DCP include a maximum dwelling unit factor that would apply in Core Transit Zones. A maximum dwelling unit factor would protect multi-family buildings (e.g., brownstones) from being consolidated into single-family mansions.