Green Housing Ideas in NYC: Encouraging Progress

The good news is that it is getting easier to implement sustainable design in our built environment – and in particular for housing. For the last several years, CHPC has strongly advocated for the removal of regulatory barriers that discourage green development in New York City. Since CHPC issued our Top Ten Green Housing Ideas Discouraged in NYC, we have worked with the real estate community and with the responsible government agencies to support the necessary regulatory changes that now encourage—not discourage—green housing in NYC.

As the updates to our list show, CHPC is encouraging progress in NYC green housing. More can be done to increase the sustainability of our city and our housing stock, but it is indeed getting easier – and more cost effective – to be green!

IDEA 1. “DENSITY:  CONSERVE ENERGY BY OCCUPYING SMALLER SPACES”

Sustainability Barriers • It is illegal under the NYC Housing Maintenance Code for more than three unrelated people to share a housing unit. Moreover, the NYS Multiple Dwelling Law, the NYC Zoning Resolution, NYC HPD Design Guidelines, and real estate tax exempt programs set out minimum room sizes and other design criteria, which make it challenging to design and build compact, flexible units for single people. While these regulations and guidelines were enacted to in reaction to sub-standard housing conditions and to assure minimum standards, they do not always correspond to contemporary needs or to the chronic shortage of housing in NYC. CHPC believes that it is possible to design smaller, compact units that are safe, healthy, and desirable places to live.

Encouraging Progress • On July 9th, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced the launch of a pilot program called adAPT NYC. The pilot will consist of a competition to develop a building comprised of small studios on city-owned property on East 27th Street. CHPC stood alongside the Mayor as he called for better solutions to accommodate the needs of New York’s growing single population. This exciting initiative is based on CHPC’s own Making Room project, which re-examines the housing unit for a 21st century New York City. With an upcoming exhibition and public forums throughout 2013, CHPC continues to explore issues of sustainable density and advocate for the re-shaping of New York City’s housing so that we can Make Room for all New Yorkers in the years to come.

IDEA 2. “USE SUSTAINABLE ENERGY TECHNOLOGIES”

Sustainability BarriersConEd restricts the type and amount of excess energy created by sustainable energy technologies that can be fed back into the grid. This discourages the creation of onsite power generation from fuel cells, micro-turbines, or co-generation – which uses exhaust heat from electricity for space heating or cooling.

Encouraging Progress • In late-2009, New York State legislation incorporated micro combined heat & power and fuel cell technologies into their net metering rules. Now residential customers with these systems can feed up to 10 kW per year of their excess energy back in to their utility grid. (2009 NYS Assembly Bill 2442, amending Public Service Law 66-J.) Additionally, the NYC Building Code makes it easier to install rooftop combined heat & power systems. These systems are no longer included in the height of the building and do not count as an additional story unless the aggregate floor space of it and other rooftop structures exceeds 1/3 of the roof area. (NYC Local Law 22 of 2011.)

IDEA 3. “ALLOW A BUILDING TO BE COOLED NATURALLY IN THE SUMMER”

Sustainability Barriers • The NYC Building Code only permits shading devices on a residential window to project up to 10 inches beyond the building’s property line. To be energy efficiency, shading devices need to project at least 2 feet 6 inches, and more if the window is larger. The only way currently to permit shading devices of this size is to follow a complex process to apply to obtain revocable consent from the Department of Transportation.

Encouraging Progress • The NYC Building Code and zoning resolution now permit sun control devices to protrude up to 2 feet – 6 inches. Sun control screens can protrude up to 2 feet – 6 inches, if no more than 30% of the façade area is covered. In addition, the recent NYC Zone Green Text Amendment states that a sun control device is a permitted obstruction with respect to required setbacks, yards, and open space. (Zone Green Text Amendment, approved 4/30/12; NYC Local Law 28 of 2012.) However, these changes, which CHPC supported, do not address the issue of sun control devices protruding over the property line.

IDEA 4. “INCREASE THE ENERGY EFFICIENCY OF HEATING SYSTEMS”

Sustainability Barriers • A boiler room located on the roof of a building facilitates ventilation and combustion air supply, which is important for the boiler to be energy efficient (and safe). If it is placed in the cellar, a boiler system may require electrically powered ventilation. However, boiler rooms are not classed as ‘permitted obstructions’ on roofs according to the NYC Zoning Resolution, and therefore must be included in measurement of the building’s height. This does not encourage locating boiler rooms on roofs in new construction.

Encouraging Progress • The Zoning Resolution now lists accessory mechanical equipment, which includes boilers, as permitted obstructions to sky exposure plane and maximum building height limits. Such equipment installed on rooftops will not count as additional building height, subject to bulkhead volume limitations. (Zone Green Text Amendment, approved 4/30/12.) CHPC supported this change.

IDEA 5. “TRANSIT”

Sustainability Barriers • Current parking requirements are governed by zoning districts. New residential developments are often required to create unnecessary parking even if they are situated in proximity to subway or rail stations or bus lines. Providing shared parking areas does not satisfy parking requirements in these zoning districts.

Encouraging Progress • The Car Share Zoning Text Amendment clarifies that car-sharing vehicles can occupy a certain percentage of public or accessory parking facilities; however, this change, while commendable, will not lower the minimum parking requirements. (Car Sharing Vehicles Zoning Text, adopted 9/29/10.) CHPC supports review and possible reduction of parking requirements by the Department of City Planning in areas well served by public transportation, such as the current parking initiative for Downtown Brooklyn. CHPC also supports public policy initiatives – zoning regulations, other incentives – that encourage transit-oriented development along with reduced parking requirements.

IDEA 6. “REDUCE HEATING AND COOLING REQUIREMENTS BY BUILDING GREEN ROOFS”

Sustainability Barriers • Green roofs have been shown to reduce heat loss and energy consumption in the winter and keep a building cool in the summer. Green roofs can naturally reduce storm-water run off and filter pollutants from rainwater. However, green roofs do not count towards open space requirements in the Zoning Resolution, making it more costly to include in development projects.

Encouraging Progress • If the building is partially or fully residential, then open space can be located on the building’s rooftop only if “such roof area is not above that portion of such building that contains dwelling units.” (Zoning Resolution 12-10, last updated 2/2/11.) Therefore, green roofs and terraces above dwelling units do not currently count as open space.  Reconsidering whether open space can be located above dwelling units may encourage development of green roofs and lead to more creative approaches to providing recreation spaces for residents. Green roofs located on “open or roofed terraces, bridges, breeze ways or porches” are excluded from floor area unless more than 50 percent of the perimeter is enclosed.  (Zone Green Text Amendment, approved 4/30/12.)  Green roofs up to 3 feet – 6 inches in height, excluding the plants, are permitted obstructions to sky exposure plane and maximum building height limits.  (Zone Green Text Amendment, approved 4/30/12.)  The parapet needs to be less than 4 feet, but a fence can be higher without counting as a floor area. CHPC supported these changes.

As for rooftop greenhouses, the Zone Green Text Amendment excludes commercial rooftop greenhouses from floor area and height limits, subject to certain limitations and contingent on City Planning certification. Yet the barriers to residential rooftop greenhouses remain: they count as floor area and are subject to building height limits. The Department of City Planning has stated that this barrier helps prevent residents from improperly converting the greenhouses into additional living space. (Zone Green Text Amendment, approved 4/30/12; Zone Green FAQs.) Reconsideration of this prohibition, with appropriate limitations, may provide opportunities for residents to grow a portion of their own food, become more knowledgeable about healthy food choices and promote connections to the natural world.

IDEA 7. “MAKE IT EASY FOR PEOPLE TO BIKE TO WORK”

Sustainability Barriers • In order for a developer to provide a bicycle room in a commercial building – which would then qualify it for a certification point in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System – a shower also needs to provided, since people often want to change and shower after riding their bike to work. The Department of Buildings will not permit public showers in commercial or manufacturing buildings zoned in districts where the Zoning Resolution prohibits accessory living and sleeping accommodations. (Department of Buildings TPPN #1/2006.)

Encouraging Progress • The City has introduced The Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law, which helps commercial building tenants safely store their bicycles at their workplace. (Bicycle Access to Office Buildings Law, adopted 12/11/11.) Reconsideration of the prohibition on showers in commercial buildings, subject to appropriate limitations, may encourage more people to bike to work.

IDEA 8. “REDUCE THE VOLUME OF STORMWATER BURDENING OUR SEWERS WITH THE INSTALLATION OF DRYWELLS”

Sustainability Barriers • Drywells are not generally permitted by the Department of Environmental Protection, even when soil conditions would be ideal. The alternative is to detain the water in a tank and drain or pump it to the city stormwater sewer. A detention tank and pumping is expensive and a financial burden, especially for affordable housing projects.

Encouraging Progress • The DEP’s new stormwater design and construction guidelines include other methods, such as perforated pipe, gravel beds and a combination of both, that would achieve the same result as a drywell system. Though not specifically included in the DEP guidelines, the Department has clarified that drywells are also acceptable methods. (Guidelines for the Design and Construction of Stormwater Management Systems, published July 2012.)

IDEA 9. “USE PHOTOVOLTAIC PANELS ON ROOFS TO GENERATE ELECTRICITY”

Sustainability Barriers • Photovoltaic panels are not a ‘permitted obstruction’ as defined in the Zoning Resolution. This makes it difficult to fit PV panels on any roof, given height limits. It also severely limits the location of the panels.

Encouraging Progress • Solar energy systems are permitted obstructions to sky exposure plane and maximum building height limits. On flat roofs, buildings zoned for Residence Districts can install solar energy systems up to four feet high. Solar systems can exceed four feet in height subject to setback limits. (Zone Green Text Amendment, approved 4/30/12.) In addition, the City modified the Building Code, so that solar thermal and photovoltaic panel rooftop installations will not be included in the building height nor count as an additional floor, even if the aggregate exceeds 1/3 of the rooftop area. (NYC Local Law 20 of 2011.) CHPC supported these changes.


IDEA 10. “INSTALL ENERGY-EFFICIENT WINDOWS TO IMPROVE ENERGY INSULATION”

Sustainability Barriers • In a historic district designated by the Landmarks Preservation Committee, the ‘historical character’ of the building and/or the historic district is the most important assessment of a new window type. It is difficult to find a compromise between the most energy efficient windows, the requirements of the Landmarks Commission and the cost of the windows.

Encouraging Progress • Although the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Municipal Arts Society are working to publish guidelines for improving the energy efficiency of landmark buildings, this issue remains a barrier to Green Housing Ideas.

 

By Megan S. Houston, CHPC Research Fellow

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