By Scott Etkin
Proposed zoning changes designed to help city property owners meet stricter energy standards got a unanimous endorsement from Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee Wednesday night. The new efficiency standards, set to take effect next year, are outlined in Local Law 97 and apply to city buildings with more than 25,000 square feet.
New York City’s buildings account for a large portion of its carbon emissions – more than transportation and waste. The city’s ability to achieve its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, therefore, will require the retrofitting of the vast majority of its existing building stock (over one million buildings).
Among the steps property owners can take to meet the new efficiency standards are: adding solar panels and battery-based energy storage systems to the building, as well as installing electric car chargers and replacing traditional boilers with electric heat pumps. The proposed zoning changes endorsed by CB7’s committee would relax restrictions that could hamper these upgrades. Under current city regulations, for instance, solar panels can only cover 25% of a building’s roof; the proposed rules would change this to 100%.
The vote followed a presentation by representatives from NYC’s Department of City Planning, who described several updates to guidelines about how a property’s space – such as the roof – can be repurposed for renewable energy equipment and upgraded machinery.
“This proposal […] is not creating any new mandates whatsoever,” ” said Andrew Cantu, senior planner at the city planning department. . “With this text amendment, what we’re trying to do is simply lower barriers so that zoning is not an impediment to implementation and trying to meet those standards.”
Making upgrades on the Upper West Side presents particular challenges since so many of its buildings are more than a hundred years old, have landmark status, or fall within a historic district.
“I just want to emphasize that [the Landmarks Preservation Commission] has ultimate jurisdiction over retrofitting, over everything that happens in historic districts and landmarks,” said Ariel Bi, another planning department official. “LPC will continue to evaluate retrofit requests and have the normal LPC review channels.”
One question raised in the meeting was how these updates will be funded. While the city’s representatives said that more details on this will become available as the proposed changes move forward, they said that tax breaks will be given to property owners who make efficiency upgrades. NYC Accelerator is also a resource for finding out more about financing opportunities.
A public hearing for the proposed rule changes is set for July, and the City Council will vote on them in October.
A full video recording of the presentation can be found at the link.