A report released by the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy on March 22 analyzes a series of 76 rezonings initiated by New York City’s Department of City Planning between 2003 and 2007 that has affected more than one-fifth of the city’s existing lots.

The Furman Center study classified each rezoned lot into one of three categories: upzoned, when a lot’s residential development capacity increased by 10 percent or more; downzoned, when that capacity shrank by at least 10 percent; and contextual-only rezoned, when capacity did not change significantly. The latter category often served the purpose of preserving a neighborhood’s “character” by limiting the type of development that could occur alongside preexisting buildings.

According to the report, only 14 percent of the changes were upzonings, while 23 percent yielded reductions in residential development capacity; the remainder were contextual-only rezonings. Among the city’s five boroughs, Queens and Manhattan experienced the largest growths in capacity. Staten Island and Brooklyn made smaller gains, while overall capacity in the Bronx remained the same.

Vicki Been '83, Boxer Family Professor of Law and faculty director of the Furman Center, raised the question of how the flurry of rezonings fits into New York City’s residential growth ambitions. “Given the scale of rezoning activity during this time, it is critical to take a step back and ask: ‘What is the net impact on the city’s capacity to accommodate new growth?’ While we find that on paper, the upzonings have added more capacity than the downzonings have taken away, we also find reason to doubt that all of this new capacity will be built out for residential use, and it remains unclear whether we are on track for creating enough new residential capacity to accommodate the one million new New Yorkers that are expected to live in the city by 2030.”

In a March 22 New York Times article discussing the Furman Center report, city officials characterized the rezonings as merely one component of their efforts to provide new housing, and said that they were on target to meet their goal.

Posted on March 22, 2010