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Projects & Proposals > Citywide > Zone Green

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  Update April 30, 2012:
On April 30,2012 the City Council adopted the Zone Green Text Amendment. The zoning text changes are now in effect. PDF Document View the adopted text amendment.

Via Verde, the Bronx. Courtesy: Jonathan Rose Companies
Via Verde, the Bronx. Courtesy: Jonathan Rose Companies
In February 2010, the Green Codes Task Force, a group of leading practitioners convened by the Urban Green Council at the request of Mayor Bloomberg and Council Speaker Quinn, released a set of recommendations to amend City regulations to promote green buildings.

Building on the work of the Green Codes Task Force, the Department of City Planning proposes a Citywide zoning text amendment to remove zoning impediments to the construction and retrofitting of green buildings. This proposal would give owners more choices for the investments they can make to save energy, save money, and improve environmental performance. This proposal will help bring our buildings into the 21st century while protecting the character and quality of life of our neighborhoods.

This proposal is one of a series of green initiatives DCP has been undertaking in order to promote sustainable communities throughout New York City. Other recent initiatives have promoted transit-oriented development; alternatives to automobile ownership and use; improved access to healthy, fresh foods; stormwater management and the quality of our streetscape. The Zone Green text amendment complements efforts under PlaNYC to improve the performance of buildings.


Energy-efficient building walls: It costs New Yorkers $15 billion each year to heat and power our buildings, and these buildings are responsible for 80 percent of the city’s carbon emissions. In 2030, 85 percent of our buildings will be buildings that exist today – so improving the performance of existing buildings is critical to reducing New York City’s energy use and carbon emissions.

Well insulated exterior walls reduce heating and cooling demands, lowering home heating bills and summer air conditioning bills. But zoning today sometimes prohibits adding insulation to the exterior of existing buildings or penalizes thicker walls.

Courtesy: Escape Estates Homebuilders
Courtesy: Escape Estates Homebuilders
The proposal: Allow existing buildings (constructed prior to adoption of this amendment)to add external insulation within the property line, while exempting it from floor area calculations and yard and open space regulations.  Installing external insulation typically adds about four inches of wall thickness, but up to eight inches would be allowed to encourage highly efficient retrofits.

For new buildings whose walls are substantially more efficient than required by New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC), up to eight inches of additional wall thickness (beyond eight inches) could be exempted from floor area, encouraging high-performance buildings without changing the amount of usable space in the building. This provision would be based on a minimum standard for the thermal performance of exterior walls, which would be incorporated into the NYCECC through City legislation.
Courtesy: Chris Benedict, R. A
Courtesy: Chris Benedict, R. A
Sun control devices: These horizontal or vertical projections can help reduce air-conditioning needs and lighting bills by providing glare-free natural light, while adding interest to the building façade. Zoning today often does not allow sun control devices to project over required open areas.

Courtesy: NYC DCP
Courtesy: NYC DCP

The proposal: Above the ground floor, allow sun control devices and awnings to project 2’-6” over required open areas. Solid portions of the sun control devices, in aggregate, could cover no more than 30 percent of the façade from which they project, as viewed in elevation.
Courtesy: Kaplan Thompson Architects
Courtesy: Kaplan Thompson Architects

Solar energy: Solar power can provide pollution-free energy for electricity or hot water, reducing utility bills and carbon emissions. Today, zoning does not allow solar installations above the maximum permitted building height.

Courtesy: NYC DOB
Courtesy: NYC DOB
The proposal: Allow solar panels on flat roofs anywhere below the parapet, regardless of building height. Portions of taller solar installations that are higher than 4 feet would be subject to limits on roof coverage and height. On sloping roofs, panels would be allowed to be flat-mounted (less than 18” high).
Courtesy: Solar Energy Systems
Courtesy: Solar Energy Systems
Other rooftop equipment: In a dense city where space is at a premium, rooftops can serve a wide range of purposes, including managing stormwater, providing recreation space, or generating renewable energy. In addition, systems such as boilers and cogeneration facilities can be safer and more efficient when located on roofs. Key building features such as stair and elevator bulkheads must also be located on roofs. However, zoning districts with contextual height limits restrict the space available for these systems above the maximum building height.

Courtesy: NYC DEP
Courtesy: NYC DEP
The proposal: Allow low-lying features such as green roofs, recreational decks, other stormwater detention systems and skylights anywhere below the parapet, regardless of building height. A guardrail no more than 30% opaque would be allowed up to 3’6” above the top surface of the roof. Greater volume, similar to what is already allowed in many Special Districts, would be allowed above the maximum building height to accommodate modern bulkheads, with requirements for setback and screening of equipment.

Rooftop greenhouses: Greenhouses on industrial, commercial and school buildings can enable year-round local food production and provide valuable educational opportunities within a dense urban environment. Unfortunately, limitations on floor area or building height have constrained opportunities for these facilities. 

The proposal: By certification of the Chair of the City Planning Commission, allow a greenhouse to be exempt from floor area and height limits, provided that it is located on top of a building that does not contain residences or sleeping accommodations. These greenhouses must not exceed 25 feet in height, must set back six feet from the roof edge, and must include practical measures to limit water consumption.
Photo by Ari Burling. Courtesy: NY Sun Works
Photo by Ari Burling.
Courtesy: NY Sun Works

Wind energy: Wind energy generation in New York City makes the most sense where winds are consistent – on taller buildings and near the waterfront. Today, small wind turbines are allowed as accessory structures if they do not exceed a building height limit.

Courtesy: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects
Courtesy: Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects
The proposal:On buildings taller than 100 feet, a wind turbine assembly may rise up to 55’ above the rooftop (including the pole and rotor), provided it is set back at least 10 feet from any property line. On waterfront blocks in medium- or higher-density residential districts, commercial or manufacturing districts, all buildings could install rooftop turbines up to half the height of the building or 55 feet, whichever is less. Free-standing turbines would be allowed in commercial and manufacturing areas on waterfront blocks. All wind installations must comply with requirements set forth by the Department of Buildings.  

Other provisions:Air conditionersinstalled in a window or through-wall sleeve can waste large amounts of energy. Central air or ductless mini-split systems are significantly more efficient. The proposal would allow greater flexibility for the location of air conditioning condenser units for these more efficient systems for one- and two-family residences.

The proposal would also clarify rules for electric vehicle charging or battery swapping facilities and solar energy generation, which are cleaner than traditional fueling or energy generation facilities. It would specify that electric vehicle charging is allowed in all parking facilities, and charging or battery swapping facilities would be allowed as Use Group 7 uses in Commercial Districts. The proposal would also specify that solar energy generation is allowed as accessory to any use or as a Use Group 6 free-standing use, permitted in Commercial Districts subject to height and setback limits.

For schools in lower-density districts where sidewalk planting strips are required, the proposal would allow permeable pavement as an alternative where required to accommodate the high levels of foot traffic generated by schools.

PDF Document View the final text amendment

Frequently Asked Questions

PDF Document Zone Green Handout

PDF Document More Information on Saving Energy

PDF Document More information on Saving Energy (Spanish)

The proposed text amendment was referred out on December 12, 2011 for 60 days to all community boards, borough boards and borough presidents for review and comment.



Department of City Planning Certification/ Referral

December 12, 2011

Comment deadline for Community Boards, Borough Boards and Borough Presidents

February 21, 2012

City Planning Commission Public Hearing

February 28, 2012

City Planning Commission Approval (with modifications*). PDF Document Read the CPC Report.

March 28, 2012

City Council Approval

April 30, 2012

*CPC Modifications
The Commission approved the zoning text as proposed, with the following modifications and clarifications:
  1. Require that applications for certification for a rooftop greenhouse be delivered to the affected Community Board when filed.
  2. Clarify that the maximum height for a rooftop greenhouse receiving floor area or height waivers is 25 feet, measured from the level of the roof to the highest point of the greenhouse.
  3. Clarify that where portions of a rooftop greenhouse used for accessory office or storage are exempted from transparency requirements, these spaces must be accessory to the greenhouse, rather than to other uses in the building.
  4. Where the text sets forth the energy efficiency standards that would entitle new buildings to deduct up to eight inches of exterior wall thickness from floor area, modify references to the NYC Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC) to reflect the potential for future modifications to the NYCECC.
  5. When a new building deducts up to eight inches of wall thickness from floor area, require this to be noted on the Certificate of Occupancy.
  6. To allow sufficient flexibility for safety rails above accessible roof surface, increase the permitted height of guardrail above the parapet from 3’6” to 4’. Clarify difference between a guardrail, restricted in height and located within two feet of the parapet, and a transparent fence, located beyond two feet of the parapet and already allowed without restriction on height.
  7. Add skylights to the list of permitted obstructions on a rooftop within a court.
  8. Clarify that sun control devices may project into a required yard by up to 2’6”, as measured from the exterior building wall.
  9. Clarify that sun control devices, if not accessible, do not count toward floor area.
  10. Clarify that wind turbines are allowed to exceed a height limit as set forth in this proposal on top of portions of a building that are at least 100 feet in height, but not on lower portions of a building, where a different portion of the building is at least 100 feet in height.

For more information about the proposed zoning text amendment, contact the Zoning Division at 212-720-3325 or email the project team.

PDF Document Items accompanied by this symbol require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.
Brief explanations of terms in green italics can be viewed by clicking on the term. Words and phrases followed by an asterisk (*) are defined terms in the Zoning Resolution, primarily in Section 12-10. Consult the Zoning Resolution for the official and legally binding definitions of these words and phrases.

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