The city has drafted new zoning rules to address the single biggest complaint among Upper West Siders: that small stores keep disappearing while banks and drug stores seem to proliferate like mad. The rules, requested by Councilwoman Gale Brewer, limit the amount of sidewalk space used by businesses on Amsterdam Avenue, Columbus Avenue or Broadway from 72nd to 110th Streets.

These are the basic rules: On Columbus and Amsterdam, there must be at least two establishments per 50 feet of sidewalk frontage, and no one establishment can have more than 40 feet. Banks can only have 25 feet, and residential buildings can only have 15 feet. Stores must be at least 30 feet deep. On Broadway, there is no overall limit on the size of stores, but banks can only have 25 feet of frontage, and lobbies can have 25 feet. Exceptions include supermarkets, schools, houses of worship and lots that are less than 30 feet deep. (The zoning would affect Columbus Avenue only up to 86th Street.)

The fast proliferation of drug stores and banks in the neighborhood has many locals worried that the neighborhood’s character is under assault (there are 65 banks between West 54th and 96th Streets, according to Brewer). The neighborhood, once dominated by small shops, looks like a suburban strip mall in some spots — when you get your crafts at Michaels Stores, stock your fridge at Whole Foods, and walk by a Bank of America every three blocks, what’s the point of living in New York? You could just as well move to Connecticut and get the same stuff, and a lawn too. What’s more, landlords seem to be willing to let stores sit empty while they wait for the next big corporation to rent a space.

That said, some real estate pros say that changing zoning like this won’t work, and may simply attract smaller versions of the same stores — a similar rule tried on the Upper East Side enticed fast food restaurants and other basically depressing businesses to open up, they say.

However you may feel about the proposal, it’s at least an attempt to tackle a big issue for local residents. It’s kind of amazing that a city administration that seems to gravitate toward huge developments with large retail spaces and sports arenas is now apparently supporting a Jane-Jacobs-esque zoning rule (Jacobs was a prominent adherent of building neighborhoods with lots of small stores looking out onto the street).

Whether the new rules pass will likely depend on whether locals get behind them, or think they’re no good. If you care about this issue (pro or con), it’s worth going to a big meeting about it on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Goddard Riverside Community Center, 593 Columbus Avenue between West 88th and West 89th Street.

We’ve included the city’s proposal below; you can click on the bottom of the document to read it in full-screen mode in a new window, or see it on the city’s website here.

Photo by Avi.

Zoning Banks Drug Stores

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 2 comments | permalink
    1. ICUDoc says:

      So – let me ask – who will make up for the money landlords lose by not being able to rent to high paying, long term, big companies and will instead have to rent to lower paying, much less stable, much less long lived small tenants? The landlords OWN the buildings and are entitled to rent it to whoever wants to pay the most rent – who the hell are the people in the area to demand small shops? They own SQUAT. This zoning should be struck down by the courts as illegal seizure of property by the government.

    2. toolatekev says:

      They should call this the muggers’ full-employment act. Personally, I like walking by large, well-lit storefronts at night. It deters crime and makes the street a more attractive place to be. Have you ever walked on blocks with eight “small businesses” on them at night when they’re all closed?
      And why all the anti-Whole Foods animosity? They have a good selection and places to sit and eat. It saved my wife’s sanity when our baby was first born because there are few other places you can just go and sit. And they have a bathroom with a changing table. Try asking to use the bathroom at Barzini’s or Gristedes, they’ll probably laugh at you or worse. Once again, probably doesn’t matter a bit to the author of this article. You seem to be arguing that because we live in the city, we’re not allowed to have nice things. I say that because we live in the city, we DESERVE nice things. And that includes (a) supermarkets that don’t make you depressed just to walk in the door. (b) well-lit ATMs at locations other than bodegas charging you $5 or more per use.