Nov. 21, 2018 By Laura Hanrahan
The Department of City Planning released its long-awaited plan earlier this week aimed at bolstering development within the North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone (IBZ).
The new plan, documented in a 168-page report, lists recommendations like increasing building height allowances, reducing parking requirements and bettering traffic flow within the large swath of industrial land along Newtown Creek, which the DCP says is one of the major job-producing hubs in the city.
The plan largely focuses on updating decades-old zoning codes and bring about other meaningful infrastructure and policy changes to help businesses here expand.
“This will allow businesses—from construction and distribution, to custom manufacturing and food production, to creative tech and media—to build more jobs in this IBZ, for the benefit of all New Yorkers and especially for local residents,” said Marisa Lago, Department of City Planning Director.
The plan, released after three years of delays and missed deadlines, came about after years of complaints from businesses and developers which argued that the low-density zoning and parking requirements dating back to 1961 codes, among other issues, are now hindering development in the area.
The North Brooklyn Industrial Business Zone—the third largest IBZ in the city— encompasses 1,066 acres of land along Newtown Creek. The zone begins at the northern tip of Greenpoint and curves down past the creek’s end into Bushwick.
This zone is home to nearly 20,000 jobs across a variety of industries, DCP says. The area, additionally, gained 2,270 jobs between 2010 and 2016, a welcomed change from the 1,570 jobs lost between 2000 and 2010.
More than half of the new jobs are in the office, retail, arts and entertainment industries.
Growth in the area, however, has lead to increased competition for land and strains on local transportation and other infrastructure, according to the DCP.
To remedy the conflicts, the new plan largely recommends actions like grouping sites in the core of the IBZ for specific industrial uses, increasing allowable building heights and changing parking requirements.
The city says establishing a framework that distinguishes different industrial uses within the zone can ensure building and expansion go smoothly and with little conflict. It recommends, for instance, that space be carved out for truck-intensive industrial uses by limiting hotels, self-storage, entertainment, retail and dining establishments from setting up in the area.
As far as upping building heights, DCP recommends that floor area ratios (FAR)—the ratio of building square footage to size of the land it sits on—be increased beyond the 1.0 FAR mostly seen through the IBZ.
The plan suggests upping the FAR to a minimum of 2.0 for industrial buildings, allowing for more floors to a given property. By doubling the allowable square footage, businesses could expand production capacity and include facets like storage or office space within their buildings.
Outside of the core of the zone, which occupies two thirds of the IBZ, is what the city calls a “growth district,” spanning several blocks near the Morgan Avenue and Jefferson Street L train stops and primed for an upzoning.
Business like Carto, a growing tech firm on Moore St., have set up shop in this area because of the availability and affordability of larger spaces.
This area, the city says, should be rezoned to allow four to six-story commercial buildings, which can lead to even more office and retail development.
With parking, the city suggests a reduction in spot requirements for new developments and expansions.
Current zoning requires a minimum of one off-street parking spot for every 1,000 or 2,000 square feet of industrial space. But the requirement has made some ground floor space unusable, and has ostensible cut into expansions and new development opportunities for many businesses.
Constructing below-grade parking, furthermore, is often not an options as it’s extremely cost-prohibitive, especially in flood zones.
The plan also addresses issues of transportation and connections within the IBZ. With more than 60 percent of the core industrial zone being beyond a half-mile walk from a subway station, DCP hopes, among other items, to increase bike lanes and implement mountable curbs for trucks in a bid to improve traffic conditions.
The plan has been widely supported by elected officials, including Council Members Antonio Reynoso and Stephen Levin, who represent the areas of the IBZ.
“The recommendations outlined in this report to protect core industrial areas in the North Brooklyn IBZ will go a long way towards ensuring this area continues to serve as an economic generator for generations to come,” Reynoso said in a statement.
Levin said he welcomed the “new and innovative solutions to allow our current industrial businesses to stay in place and for new businesses to have a chance to open and grow.”
DCP will now begin to work with stakeholders to introduce proposed zoning changes.
The release of DCP’s plan comes less than a week after Amazon announced its plans to establish new headquarters across Newtown Creek in Long Island City–a stone throw’s away.
The e-commerce company’s office development has been panned by several local electeds, including Levin, Reynoso, and State Senator-elect Julia Salazar, for reasons including its secretive proceedings and resulting tax break deal with the city and state.
“We can’t stand by and allow a union-busting, predatory corporation to invade Queens at the expense of our communities, tenants, and straphangers,” Salazar said.
Reynoso and Levin, who both signed a letter of support last year that was sent to Amazon in its HQ2 search, said they are concerned about the development’s impact on North Brooklyn and the limited role the City Council will play in the process. They also said a corporation like Amazon should not be receiving subsidies to come.
“…We fully expected local review and approval over any possible deal,” Reynoso said. “I am outraged by and don’t condone a backroom deal that gives away local subsidies and devalues NYC.”