The city under Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken some aggressive steps toward a greener future, and the Department of City Planning recently released its latest development in transforming New York into a more sustainable place to live.
The Zone Green Text Amendment is currently circulating through the city’s community boards for comments and feedback, and while some applaud its purpose, others have expressed trepidation over the methods used to achieve the green results and whether the zoning changes will amount to irreversible and unwanted changes to the city’s streetscapes and skylines.
The purpose of the amendment, a City Planning spokesperson said, is to remove zoning impediments that would hinder green building and renovating practices. The proposal was developed in consultation with the Department of Buildings (DOB) and the Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning & Sustainability, and the DOB will be in charge of enforcing any zoning changes and policing how they are implemented.
The main components of the proposal involve changing zoning regulations to allow for the conversion of more energy-efficient building walls, the addition of sun-shading devices on windows and glass walls, construction of solar panels and other rooftop additions like rainwater tanks or even wind power turbines and creating greenhouses on roofs. Many of the changes would primarily affect the rooftops of existing buildings.
Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said they are still reviewing the 50-page proposal and forming opinions about it but they have some concerns over the potential results of such sweeping changes.
“The idea of the exterior insulation, eight inches of exterior insulation, strikes us as potentially damaging to historic streetfronts,” Bankoff said. “When we’re talking about historic buildings, we’re not talking about landmark buildings necessarily, we’re just talking about old buildings.”
He also said that while the city should be applauded for thinking big and going green, some of the technologies it espouses may not be worth the expense and alteration to the skyline.
“Do you want to start putting a 50-foot wind tower on a 100-foot building that will only generate 6 percent of its energy?” Bankoff said.
Page Cowley, an architect and one of the co-chairs of Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee, said some board members expressed similar reservations about the proposal, which will go before the full board on Tuesday night without a resolution from the committee.
“Some people felt that changing the ways that the tops of buildings look and increasing the bulkhead, which can go as high as 40 feet, wasn’t a problem. For others, people don’t know how this is going to affect existing, nonlandmarked buildings—how this is going to change our skyline,” she said.
Preservation advocacy group Landmark West has previously commissioned skyline studies on the Upper West Side, and its director of preservation, Cristiana Peña, confirmed that they are reviewing the proposal in that light to determine how it might affect landmark-protected buildings.
Cowley said some board members expressed concern over how the changes would be managed between the DOB, City Planning and the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which all have their own definitions and goals regarding green buildings. City Planning confirmed that the DOB will still be overseeing all building additions.
“This is where it starts to impact the private residents, and the question is, how can this be done in such a way that certain types of rooftop additions maybe need to come back to the community board for review?” she said.
Community Board 8 will review the proposal at its full board meeting Wednesday, Feb. 15.
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