The city’s plan to limit the size of Upper West Side storefronts passed another hurdle on Wednesday night, winning approval from Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee. The committee voted 11 to 2 to pass the rules, meaning the proposal has now won approval from two committees and will move on to the full board.

“The board has been taking it seriously,” said Mel Wymore, a CB7 member and City Council candidate who has been a big proponent of the plan. “There’s been a lot of detailed discussion.”

The Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, whose chairman owns numerous properties on Columbus Avenue, has asked that Columbus Avenue be excluded from the rule. But the committee denied that proposal.

These are the basic rules in the city’s new Upper West Side zoning plan: 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 proposal has been somewhat mischaracterized in various media outlets as somehow banning chain stores. Even proponents of the rules have overstated the case: some seem to think it will keep Wal-Mart out of the neighborhood. The rules wouldn’t forbid chains from opening in the neighborhood, although they could help dissuade landlords from evicting mom-and-pop shops in the hopes of renting to a huge Duane Reade.

Chains like Duane Reade can still open up, but the amount of sidewalk space they take up will be limited. The city won’t be able to determine who can and can’t open a business, and they are allowing businesses to build as big as they want on the second floors of buildings. The businesses could also use as much interior space as they want, as long as the sidewalk space is limited.

The hope is to promote more active street life. Famed New York City activist Jane Jacobs made this argument decades ago: blocks with more small stores are livelier and happier, and they can even be safer because there are generally more eyes on the street. To keep the streets lively, the rules would also mandate a “minimum amount of transparency,” basically making businesses have large windows looking out onto the street.

The city explains the reasoning behind the new rules like this:

“At the same time, in an area where commercial demand has historically been relatively high, a growing residential population has placed greater demand for local goods and services. Although the historical character along all three avenues remains generally intact and the area remains a strong model for commercial streets citywide, businesses entering the neighborhood today are able to assemble multiple storefronts and carve out a single, larger space along the primary commercial street. These trends have threatened the historic local retail character on Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues that has greatly contributed to the area’s popularity and success. The proposed text amendment seeks to preserve the existing retail and commercial character of the Upper West Side by regulating street frontage on Amsterdam and Columbus Avnues and banks on Broadway. In addition, it would mandate a minimum amount of transparency in new buildings to ensure an active and dynamic pedestrian experience.”

Check out our first article on the plan here.

Photo by Charley Lhasa via flickr.

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

      This is possibly the dumbest zoning proposal ever. Who thinks of such nonsense?

      This will NOT reduce the number of chains. It will, in fact, have the opposite effect. Landlords will feel greater pressure to get top dollar and lock in dependable tenants. But the retail limits mean that only fast food and Radio Shack-type chains sign leases. You’ll have an endless procession of small-spaces users, like McDonalds, Subway, and Radio Shack, which is even worse than Chase, Duane Reade and Gap.

      BTW, they tried this on East 86th Street, in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and that’s exactly what happened. All the independents were replaced by Burger King.

    2. a medwedew says:

      They want to fix the Upper West Side, but it ain’t broke! The politicians, local organizations and media are telling everyone that this will save the small mom and pop stores. Gentrification, high rents, high taxes, market trends and obsolete business models are the primary cause of the mom and pop demise. The Upper West Side is lacking in competitively priced retail space, an issue which is not addressed by the proposed ordinance. Big stores in small storefronts will be the result, not more small businesses.