Preservation Issues

Council Votes on ZQA and MIH Zoning Proposals After Major Changes to Both

Sterling Place, Prospect Heights, Brooklyn - An overlay area with contextual zoning and historic district designation.

March 30, 2016

The City Council voted in sweeping changes to New York’s zoning regulations when it approved Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) this month. The stated intent of both proposals is to increase affordable housing, but the real effects are far from clear. In the year since the Department of City Planning introduced the city-wide proposals, the Conservancy has spoken out multiple times, asking questions, and opposing the aspects of ZQA and MIH that would incentivize development and threaten neighborhoods but yield little affordability. We encouraged you to contact your Council members with the same message.

Some 600 of you sent messages to the Council, adding to the opposition from Community Boards, Borough Presidents, and other civic and preservation organizations. While we didn’t achieve everything we asked for, thanks to you, there were significant changes to both proposals.

ZQA, “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” had so many questionable parts that residents across the City said “no.” City Planning made some improvements last year, but they weren’t enough.

The bill that the Council approved contains these changes:

Despite these improvements, ZQA will leave contextual districts in upper Manhattan and across the other boroughs vulnerable to new, larger, taller buildings that will compromise their character.

MIH initially set affordability levels so high that many residents of areas that face this massive upzoning could not afford the units. When the Council voted, it promised greater and deeper affordability, with protections against displacement. These are certainly improvements, but bigger issues remain. MIH will still require enormous amounts of market-rate development to subsidize affordable units, potentially overrunning neighborhoods. And, ultimately, questions remain about how much affordable housing MIH will produce.

When these proposals were first announced, the Administration expected to slip them by voters in a matter of months. But residents waded through many hundreds of pages of complicated zoning text and forced the Administration to slow down, talk to Community Boards, and give the public an opportunity to be heard. The Administration still didn’t make it easy for the public to participate. But you did speak out. And your voices shaped a better proposal, and reminded elected officials that we all have a stake in the New York’s future.


March 22, 2016
Thank you for speaking out! The Council listened to you!

The City Council Land Use Committee voted on the Mayor’s citywide zoning proposals after months of public criticism and concern. Some 600 of you sent messages to the Council, adding to the opposition from Community Boards, Borough Presidents, and other civic and preservation organizations. While we didn’t achieve everything we asked for, there have been significant changes.

Reaction to both proposals, which would have overturned 40 years of community planning, has been a vocal reminder that “one size fits all” doesn’t work. This was a powerful message to the Administration.

ZQA, “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” had so many questionable parts that residents across the City said “no.” City Planning made some improvements last year, but they weren’t enough.

Here’s what we know about changes to ZQA the Council is making now:

—The Sliver Law will remain in effect, ensuring that tall, skinny mid-block buildings will continue to be banned.

— There will not be an automatic five-foot height increase for market-rate developments below 96th Street in Manhattan.

— Back yard open space will be protected. The only exception will be for affordable senior housing developments and even that encroachment will be limited.

—The height bonus for affordable housing is reduced by 10 feet in many areas.

—Parking has greater protection in boroughs outside Manhattan, where public transportation is limited.

MIH, “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” initially set “affordability” levels so high that many residents of areas that face this massive upzoning could not afford the units.

Here’s what we know about changes to MIH the Council is making now:

—The Council has ensured that more lower income residents will qualify.

—The Administration also has promised a study of how to assist the lowest income residents find affordable housing.

When these proposals were first announced a year ago, the Administration expected to slip them by voters in a matter of months. But residents waded through many hundreds of pages of “zoning-speak” and forced the Administration to slow down, talk to Community Boards, and give the public an opportunity to be heard. The Administration still didn’t make it easy for the public to participate. But you did speak out.

There will still be impacts from both ZQA and MIH. But we are confident that you will continue to help us protect the character of neighborhoods and the City’s quality of life.

Thank you.


March 1, 2016
Help Save New York Neighborhoods

The City Council Land Use Committee is scheduled to vote Thursday on citywide zoning proposals that would overturn 40 years of community planning across the City. If you haven’t contacted the Council, please take this final chance to have your voice heard.

The plans are opposed by a majority of community boards and Borough Presidents, as well as some housing advocates, clergy, civic groups and preservation organizations. Please take one more opportunity to make your voice heard.

Fill out the fast and easy-to-use Online Advocacy Form

ZQA, “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” has little to do with better buildings and affordable homes. It busts height limits in contextual districts for larger developments with no requirement of affordable units. The largest bonus would be for buildings with senior affordable housing. But, after thirty years, these out of scale buildings could turn into luxury coops.

MIH, “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” will result in massive upzonings that would produce large developments. But, as currently written, “affordable” units would still be too expensive for many residents.

Contact the City Council Today: Controversial Zoning Votes Near

Most New Yorkers recognize the need for affordable housing. But zoning alone is not going to solve the problem. And there is no need to sacrifice neighborhoods where residents often worked with the City for years to fashion zoning appropriate for their community. These contextual plans often included hard won compromises, such as allowing taller buildings on avenues in return for height limits on side streets.

The vote on these proposals by the Council’s Land Use Committee will be decisive. Please send a message to the committee members: MIH should have variable affordability requirements geared to specific areas. The Council should table ZQA until widespread concerns are sufficiently addressed.

These are your neighborhoods. Protect them.


Make Your Voice Heard!

February 11, 2016
Our great thanks to all of you who took action and sent a message to your Council Member asking them to vote No on the Mayor’s controversial zoning proposals. Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) would gut forty years of careful community planning and change the face of neighborhoods forever. Many of you responded to our action alert.

The Council’s Land Use Committee Chair David Greenfield received copies of 273 messages and one Council member heard from 53 of her constituents.

There is still time to make your voice heard. The Council will debate ZQA and MIH over the next few weeks.

>>>Click here to send your message today.

Prior to this week’s sessions, we also sent Council members and the five Borough Presidents copies of a report we commissioned from BFJ Planning that contained our recommendations on both proposals.

At packed hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, preservation, housing, and civic advocates, union representatives, community members, and elected officials outlined their concerns. At the MIH hearing, speaker after speaker questioned the depth of affordability levels and whether the neediest New Yorkers would have access to new affordable units or if they would be displaced.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Vicki Been of the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development and City Planning Chair Carl Weisbrod focused on height and bulk bonuses for affordable senior housing. They suggested that future regulatory restrictions would keep those units affordable after 30 years, but could not guarantee that future administrations would keep those priorities.

They dismissed concerns about the loss of neighborhood character and refused to make any changes, even to a five –foot height increase for market-rate construction. This giveaway to developers is intended to create higher ground floors for retail spaces or apartments, but the Commissioners couldn’t explain how this ties into affordability.

Public testimony at both hearings ran into the evening, as the Council members questioned supporters and opponents of the plans. Committee Chair Greenfield and Donovan Richards, Chair of the Zoning Subcommittee, have stated that there will be changes to the proposals.

Let the City Council know that you do not support ZQA and MIH in their current form. We will keep you updated in the weeks leading to the Council’s vote.


February 8, 2016

We need your help today.

Please let your Council Member know that you do not support ZQA and MIH.

We support the goals of increased affordable housing, but “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” (ZQA) amounts to a “bait and switch.” It doesn’t guarantee affordable housing but it does overturn local planning. It will toss aside agreements that communities have forged with the City over decades. “Mandatory Inclusionary Housing” (MIH) will result in units that remain unaffordable for residents in many part of New York.

The City Council will hear these two proposals on February 9 and 10. Contact Your City Council Member Today!

Despite widespread opposition from community boards, preservation groups and even some housing advocates, City Planning passed ZQA and MIH on February 3 with only minor changes.

The Conservancy opposes ZQA (“Zoning for Quality and Affordability”) because it upends decades of local community planning with no guarantee of affordable housing. Instead, it opens the door for out of scale market rate development in communities that fought hard to obtain City-approved height limits. We support the goal of Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH). But the Mayor’s plan will produce apartments too expensive for residents of many areas.

The Conservancy commissioned a report on the proposals from BFJ Planning and developed several recommendations. We have sent these to the City Council as they prepare to hear both plans the week of February 8.

Conservancy ZQA recommendations include: eliminate contextual zones and historic districts from ZQA to protect their existing integrity. Don’t allow encroachment in rear yards to protect light, air and open space. Retain the existing Sliver Law regulations, which restrict tall narrow buildings on side streets. Bonuses for senior housing should be tied to permanent affordability—not the bill’s 30-year limit—or they should be eliminated.

Conservancy MIH recommendations include: Affordability should be measured by incomes for the borough, neighborhood or census blocks. MIH uses the New York Metropolitan Area average, which is too high. Existing affordable housing should be preserved or replaced in kind.

We’re counting on you to help us make the case against ZQA and MIH. We will send you an alert early next week that allows you to quickly and easily send a message to your Council Member.


UPDATE: January, 2016
Opposition Continues to Build for Mayor’s Zoning Proposal

The new year starts with the same upzoning proposals that threaten neighborhoods across the City. In December, the Conservancy testified at a City Planning Commission hearing on Zoning for Quality and Affordability (ZQA) and Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH). At the start of the day there were hundreds of others, standing outside for two hours before even being able to sign in to testify or enter the hearing room, which was packed with union supporters. Unfortunately, many were unable to wait, and City Planning refused to have a second hearing date.

The Conservancy’s testimony argued that the proposals would upzone large sections of the City in a one-size-fits-all plan without local community input. ZQA raises height limits in districts across the City with contextual zoning. Dozens of neighborhoods fought for years to gain these tailored zoning protections, which ZQA would unilaterally amend. This would add to pressure on the Landmarks Commission to approve additions and new construction in areas where contextual zones overlap with historic districts.

ZQA would roll back the Sliver Law, which prevents high-rise towers on narrow mid-block sites. MIH would require vast amounts of new market-rate development in exchange for small numbers of affordable housing units, shifting the balance away from affordability in many neighborhoods. There are no statistics available on the number of existing affordable units that might be lost to demolition.

Both plans are moving through the review process in record time, while most neighborhood rezoning plans have taken years

Following opposition to the plan from the majority of Community Boards and Borough Presidents, the administration has claimed that residents didn’t understand the proposals, or that they were only reacting to stop change. Neither of those claims is true. While these are dense and lengthy plans with far-reaching implications, it is clear that these plans will help developers before they will help neighborhoods.

The City Planning Commission will take a vote on ZQA and MIH early next year. The next, decisive step will be a City Council hearing. We will be speaking out at the hearing and we will help you reach out to your Council member so your voice can be heard.

UPDATE: November, 2015
Opposition Builds for Mayor’s Zoning Proposal

The Landmarks Conservancy testified against the Department of City Planning proposal “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” (ZQA) at Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s November 16 hearing (read our testimony). ZQA, which is being rolled out in tandem with a proposal for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing, and East New York rezoning, has drawn “no” votes from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, Bronx BP Ruben Diaz, and a majority of Community Boards. On November 30, Brewer issued resolutions recommending “conditional disapproval.”

The Conservancy argued that the proposal would overturn basic planning principles that protect neighborhoods such as: contextual zoning height limits, which communities across the City labored to achieve; the Sliver Law, which prevents narrow buildings that are taller than adjacent buildings; the long-held distinctions between narrow and wide streets; and the preferences for open space in rear yards, including light and air. We questioned the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, which claims that the proposal would have no impact on historic resources since it is not expected to induce development, even though plan’s intent is to increase development, and warned of the pressure that the Landmarks Commission will be under to approve out-of-scale new construction and additions in historic districts with contextual zoning.

We criticized this massive plan and its one-size-fits-all approach for each of New York’s unique communities. It does not provide any guarantee for an increase in affordable housing, but will encourage market rate units, so we asked for an analysis of the expected numbers of new market rate units, new affordable units, and the numbers of existing stabilized and affordable units that could be lost to demolition.

MBP Brewer and some three hundred attendees heard from the Conservancy, our preservation colleagues, housing advocates, and concerned citizens: 55 of the 57 who testified opposed the proposals. In addition to the issues listed above, a wide array concerns have been raised regarding income limits for affordable housing and changes to parking requirements. Recommendations from Brooklyn and Staten Island are expected in December.

The proposals will are expected to go before the City Council in February.

UPDATE: October, 2015
Public Review And Approval Of Citywide Zoning Has Begun: Hard Fought Height Limits Threatened

The Mayor’s “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” which would bust height limits in neighborhoods throughout the City, has begun the official public review and approval process. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Manhattan’s 12 community boards will hold a public hearing on the plan November 16th.

Despite some changes to the initial plan, it would still upend hard-fought height limits in contextual zones, with new buildings from 5 to 50 feet taller than currently allowed. Developers could simply build taller market rate units under the plan. And there is no guarantee of better “quality” or “affordability.” Contextual zones cover much of the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan, Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side and much of brownstone Brooklyn. They often overlap with historic districts.

Landmark West! says nearly every block of the Upper West Side would be affected, while skylines along Central Park West and Riverside Drive could rise 40 feet. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation says the plan would eliminate “sliver law” restrictions on overly tall, skinny developments if they set aside a fraction of their units for affordable or senior housing. A Friends of the Upper East Side study noted that given the substantial number of existing rent-regulated units in the Upper East Side, new construction could actually result in fewer affordable units through a pattern of “tear down and rebuild development.”

The Conservancy, other preservation and community groups, and several elected officials, objected to the initial plan at a City Planning hearing last spring. The plan was initially scheduled to be rushed through over last summer and voted upon this fall. After the public outcry, City Planning has been briefing community boards over the summer and individual boards have been having hearings to get public input. Check with your community board to see if a hearing has happened or is scheduled. Despite the potential impact, the plan has not received the media attention it deserves.

The review process, which officially began on September 21, is expected to take approximately six months. Following individual community board review, the plan goes to the Borough Presidents, Borough Boards, the City Planning Commission and, ultimately, the City Council. The Conservancy will testify at the November 16 Borough Board hearing and when it reaches the City Council. We will alert you when we know when and where these hearings will take place and urge you to speak out as well. Sign up for our e-news here.


UPDATE: August 27, 2015
Zoning Plan Continues to Put Neighborhoods at Risk

Neighborhoods across the City are still at risk from the Department of City Planning’s “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” (ZQA) proposal. The agency has released more details in the draft zoning text available on its website.

“ZQA” would upend contextual zoning protections that communities across the City fought for over the last 30 years. It takes a city-wide approach to all the varied neighborhoods across the five boroughs. It will increase height limits from five to 50 feet from the Upper East Side to Brooklyn to Queens, encouraging new construction without considering different development pressures in different parts of the City. It will eliminate parking requirements, a change that might make sense in dense, transit-rich Manhattan, but is of great concern for communities with limited subway access. And it still does not provide concrete goals for quality buildings or affordable housing.

The plan is one of several that the de Blasio administration is set to be releasing simultaneously this fall. This does not allow enough time for elected officials, Community Boards, and residents to digest and offer feedback on proposals that will have lasting repercussions on our buildings and streets. “ZQA,” changes to inclusionary housing mandates, and the large-scale rezoning in East New York and other neighborhoods are intended to incentivize more construction, greater density, and more housing at all income levels. They are also certain to have unintended consequences. We call upon City Planning to inject more transparency into the process, and show the impacts of these plans in a user-friendly way, in every neighborhood where they will take place.

City Planning is already hearing protests. When the plan was released last spring, the initial uproar prompted the agency to spend this summer meeting with Community Boards, but they were left confused by the complexity and still asking questions. The agency heard also from residents who were convinced that five-foot height increases would be result in rooftop additions without meeting any of the plan’s goals. A letter from DCP Chair Carl Weisbrod on the website highlights an update: In districts where the maximum height is being raised by at least five feet, all ground floors must be 13 feet high, or a five-foot increase will not be permitted. That change should alleviate concerns that a five or ten-foot increase will be used only towards penthouse additions, but it does not alter the Conservancy’s fundamental issues with the proposal.

Last spring the Conservancy spoke against the rezoning at a Department of City Planning scoping session (link). The agency is required to complete an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that responds to the questions that we and so many other advocates and building owners asked. The EIS is scheduled to be issued in the fall, starting the formal public review process, which will include opportunities for public testimony at Community Board meetings and public hearings of the City Planning Department and City Council. We will keep you posted with alerts and e-news items when the schedule is released.


May 18, 2015
Improvements to “Zoning for Quality and Affordability” Proposal …. But Questions Remain

We asked you to speak out against the City Planning Department’s proposal for so-called “Zoning for Quality and Affordability.” The proposal would allow buildings to go from 5 to 50 feet taller than current limits in neighborhoods with contextual zoning. Your voice was heard and it has made a difference. Thanks to all of you who attended the public scoping session and wrote to City Planning, there are significant alterations to the plan. Click here to see City Planning letter.

In R8B districts – Maintain the current maximum height of 75 feet that exists today (the proposal previously identified an increase to 85 feet).

In R7A districts – Allow a basic maximum height of 85 feet (a 5 foot increase, instead of the 15 foot increase previously proposed), and 105 feet for buildings providing affordable senior housing or inclusionary housing. With this change, only buildings that provide affordable housing would be permitted additional stories.

In R6B districts – Allow a maximum height of 55 feet for all buildings (a maximum of 65 feet was previously proposed for affordable senior housing or inclusionary housing).

But there are still neighborhoods where height limits will be increased up to 50 feet. And there is still no guarantee of the “affordability” or the “quality” in the proposal’s title. City Planning will begin presentations to Community Boards that request the meetings over the next two months. The formal review process for the Community Boards, Borough Presidents, and City Council will begin in the fall.

This rezoning plan will affect neighborhoods across the City. If you live in a neighborhood that has contextual zoning, request that your Community Board receive a briefing this spring so you can learn what the changes will mean for your block. We will follow the informational meetings, testify at the public hearings, and send you alerts.


Residents and Elected Officials Object to Massive Rezoning Plan

Public testimony was overwhelmingly against a far-reaching rezoning proposal to allow taller buildings in neighborhoods throughout the City, when the City Planning Department held an initial hearing last Wednesday, March 25. The proposal was criticized as a giveaway to developers and an assault on community character, which fails to recognize the damaging impact it could have on human-scaled neighborhoods.

The zoning amendment titled, “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” would permit new buildings to be 5 to 50 feet taller than currently allowed in contextual zoning districts. Despite the title, developers would also have the right to build even taller market rate buildings under the plan.

Contextual zoning regulates the height, bulk and setback of new buildings to produce designs consistent with the existing neighborhood character. Much of Manhattan and brownstone Brooklyn is covered by contextual zoning. There is also some overlap with historic districts.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer read testimony supported by every other elected official representing the borough: “We fear that in the rush to solve the problem of housing supply we are …leaving behind the principle of sound neighborhood planning,” she said. (Read Brewer’s letter to City Planning here)

Conservancy testimony highlighted the likely impact on City-designated historic districts: “We are concerned that, if passed, the proposal will put undue pressure on the Landmarks Commission to approve additions and new construction in historic districts that are out of scale with surrounding buildings. This would negate the protections of the district designation and add pressure to slow down further district designation.” (Read Conservancy testimony here)

Some 200 people attended the City Planning session, despite little public explanation of the proposal by City Planning and scant media attention. The proposal is being fast-tracked and could be scheduled for review by Community Boards during the summer, when many residents are away. In contrast, it could often take years for a neighborhood to achieve contextual zoning, which was specifically tailored to each area. The proposal is a “one size fits all” approach. City Planning also has not produced maps which could allow residents to see if and how the rezoning would affect them.

TAKE ACTION: City Planning is accepting written testimony on the rezoning until April 6.

Send your questions or concerns to

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Or send letters to:
Robert Dobruskin
Director, Environmental Assessment and Review Division
NYC Department of City Planning
22 Reade Street, 4E
New York, NY 10007


March 25, 2015
Fast-Tracked Zoning Proposal Would Raise Building Heights Throughout the City

The Conservancy testified before the Department of City Planning on a draft rezoning proposal to allow taller buildings in contextual zoning districts which cover wide areas of the City.

Contextual zoning regulates the height and bulk of new buildings, their setback from the street line and their width along street frontage to produce buildings consistent with the existing neighborhood character.

Contextual districts cover the majority of the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan, portions of Greenwich Village and the Lower East Side and much of brownstone Brooklyn. Residents demanded the height limits contextual districts afford to protect the scale of their neighborhoods. It could often take years for the City to respond and create a contextual district. Each district was tailored block by block after careful study. This new proposal is being fast-tracked and could be approved in a few months. So far, there has been little media or public awareness of the sweeping changes that could result.

City Planning also needs to provide greater details…especially neighborhood specific maps and maps showing where historic and contextual districts overlap…so that residents can know if and how they will be affected.

The proposal would allow market rate housing of 5 to 15 feet higher than currently permitted. Affordable or senior housing could rise from 15 to 50 feet higher than currently permitted, depending on the scale of the district. While the proposal is titled “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” there is no guarantee that either will be achieved.

Since some historic and contextual districts overlap, the proposal would make the Landmarks Preservation Commission the “bad cop” and increase pressure on the Commission to approve buildings out of scale with the district. It could also slow the designation of new historic districts and there are still many neighborhoods seeking designation.

The March 25 “scoping session” was the beginning of the public review process. The Conservancy will stay involved, keep you informed, and ask for your assistance at appropriate stages.

Read the full testimony here.