NYC’s Zoning for Carbon Neutrality is Here to Stay

Over a year ago, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced the “City of Yes”, a plan to update the City’s zoning tools to support small businesses, create affordable housing, and promote sustainability. On December 6, 2023, the first of this trio, known as the “City of Yes for Carbon Neutrality” zoning text amendments (“COYCN”) was officially approved by the City Council. The passage of COYCN marks a huge victory in the City Administration’s efforts to decarbonize the City’s energy grid, building stock, vehicles, and waste streams. 

COYCN is a necessary step towards achieving the City’s and State’s carbon reduction and renewable energy goals: in 2016, the City introduced 80×50, and committed to reducing greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions by 80% by 2050. In 2019, the State passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (“CLCPA”), and committed to reducing GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 and 85% by 2050, and to transitioning the electric grid to 70% renewable energy sources by 2030 and 100% by 2040. The City also enacted the Climate Mobilization Act, which includes, among other things, Local Law 97 (“LL97”), imposing a series of escalating GHG emissions caps for buildings larger than 25,000 square feet (with certain exceptions) beginning in 2024, with corresponding financial penalties for non-compliance. COYCN will support these goals by removing and/or easing certain zoning restrictions that have, historically, thwarted the development of renewable energy and decarbonization of the City’s building stock.

COYCN makes a number of citywide changes to the Zoning Resolution to eliminate barriers to high-performance building retrofits, decarbonization retrofit projects and to allow solar energy, wind energy, electric vehicle (“EV”) charging, and energy storage systems (“ESS”), such as battery storage.

Energy Decarbonization. COYCN enables the development of “distributed energy resources” (i.e., wind, solar and ESS) throughout the City to support the transition to an energy grid fueled by renewable energy sources by:

Building Stock Decarbonization. COYCN removes existing barriers to support critical building retrofits to achieve high energy efficiency levels through:

Transportation Decarbonization. COYCN helps encourage a transition to EVs, expand the use of bicycles, and increase the use of electric micro mobility and mass transit by:

Waste Decarbonization. COYCN also supports the reduction of stormwater runoff and the amount of organic waste sent to landfills, as well as increase local food production through:

The Administration’s two other City of Yes initiatives are also about to reach significant milestones: the City of Yes for Economic Opportunity zoning text amendment recently entered into public review and has been referred out to the City’s community boards and borough presidents, and the City of Yes for Housing Opportunity zoning text amendment is in the environmental review stage, and is expected to enter into public review in the spring.

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National Law Review, Volumess XIII, Number 341