The barrier has to come down.
That was the clear message on May 16 when the New York League of Conservation Voters hosted a panel discussion on the environmentally significant proposal called the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality. Watch the panel here.
NYC’s City of Yes proposal calls for the city to amend its outdated zoning laws to make it easier for the city to deal with three simultaneous crises: the housing crisis, the economic crisis caused by Covid and the climate crisis, the latter being addressed through the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality plan.
“As they stand today, New York City’s zoning regulations are a barrier to making the necessary green investments that are crucial in our fight against climate change and reducing toxic pollution,” said NYLCV President Julie Tighe, in her opening remarks. “However, a few weeks ago, a groundbreaking step was taken as the public review process began for the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality zoning proposal.”
NYLCV’s event, held at the American Institute of Architects in Manhattan, was the first comprehensive educational session on this proposal since the review process kicked off.
Dan Garodnick, the director of the New York City Department of City Planning and chair of the Planning Commission, gave examples of how the city’s current zoning laws stand in the way of the city taking action to meet its climate goals: reducing greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 40 percent by 2030 and by 85 percent by 2050.
He said the current zoning rules restrict the size of solar panels on rooftops and prevent solar panels from being installed over open parking lots in the city. He said both restrictions need to be lifted because solar power is a key to reducing NYC’s carbon footprint, explaining that allowing solar panels over the 8,500 acres of open parking lots would power 130,000 homes.
“Boy, are we in the way if we have rules that cannot enable this to take place,” he said.
He said EV charging stations are now allowed in only half of the commercial zones. “We want to make it legal in all commercial zones,” he said.
Rit Aggarwala, NYC’s Chief Climate Officer and Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, praised the city’s efforts, explaining that in his years in government service, he has seen a major shift on climate, from an effort by a few to where approximately 20 city agencies are now involved. It’s become an “all-government effort,” saying that the Adams administration is continuing the efforts begun by Mayors Bloomberg and De Blasio.
Regarding the City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality proposal, he said, “This is about getting sustainability done.”
Annie Carforo, the climate justice campaigns manager at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, highlighted several things, including the importance of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from homes. “Transitioning buildings from fossil fuel heating, cooling and cooking to all electric has incredible health benefits,” she explained, for the individuals in the home and for the greater community, because of the cumulative impact of eliminating those greenhouse gasses.
Among the other changes proposed through the City of Yes Carbon Neutrality program:
- Remove existing zoning obstacles that limit how much space on a rooftop can be covered by solar panels;
- Altering regulations to allow EV charging stations in public garages and other places where needed; and
- Changing certain zoning rules that would ultimately have the effect of substantially reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills and the amount of stormwater sent to wastewater treatment plants. (This would be done by expanding the use of permeable pavement and rain gardens and removing red tape regarding recycling, composting and rooftop food production.)
With the zoning amendments now in the 60-day review process, city leaders expect the process to move quickly. The plan will need the support of at least 26 City Council members, with the vote expected in October.
“I urge people to write letters of support,” said Garodnick. “We need government to be an asset, not an obstacle.”
For a more detailed explanation of the City of Yes Carbon Neutrality plan, see this NYLCV article.