A citywide rezoning proposal quietly released by the de Blasio administration last month has begun the public review process. 'Zoning for Quality and Affordability' sounds like mom and apple pie, as it purports to make new housing less costly and meet higher standards. But a closer examination calls these premises into question. Big real estate, not average New Yorkers, would be the main beneficiary of some of the plan's key provisions, and its cost would be the undoing of neighborhood zoning protections years in the making.
The proposal is quite broad in its scope. But a central element is raising the allowable height of new development in "contextual zoning districts" -- areas where specific height limits and streetwall requirements help ensure that new buildings fit their context. These rules are meant to keep much of the "sore thumb" development we see around the city from cropping up in residential neighborhoods with strongly defined character, from the Lower East Side to Harlem, Crown Heights to Jackson Heights, the Village to Sunset Park.
Many of these height limits took years of effort by local communities to secure, and often involved compromises and trade-offs with the city and real estate interests to attain modest controls.
Now those rules would be upended, with the height caps lifted by as much as 20 to 30 percent, across the board.