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adult entertainment study cover New York City Comprehensive Waterfront Plan: Reclaiming the City's Edge, zoning and land use proposals for public discussion, 1992. ($8.00)
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Executive Summary

New York City's waterfront is a valuable but still untapped resource. Decades of declining maritime activity have left much of the city's waterfront dormant. Today, after years of neglect and revitalization attempts stalled by the clash of competing interests, New Yorkers are coming together to fulfill the public's claim to productive use and increased enjoyment of this resource.

The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan proposed by the Department of City Planning responds to this extraordinary planning opportunity. For the first time in the city's history, it provides a framework to guide land use along the city's entire 578-mile shoreline in a way that recognizes its value as a natural resource and celebrates its diversity. The plan presents a long-range vision that balances the needs of environmentally sensitive areas and the working port with opportunities for waterside public access, open space, housing and commercial activity.

The plan envisions a 21st century waterfront where:

  • parks and open spaces with a lively mix of activities are within easy reach of communities throughout the city;
  • people once again swim, fish and boat in clean waters;
  • natural habitats are restored and well cared for;
  • maritime and other industries, though reduced in size from their heyday, thrive in locations with adequate infrastructure support;
  • ferries crisscrossing the city's harbor and rivers, and interconnected systems of bikeways and pedestrian pathways help lessen traffic congestion and air pollution;
  • panoramic water views of great beauty are preserved or created; and
  • the city's needs for new housing and jobs for people of diverse income levels are satisfied in attractive and safe surroundings.

Fortunately, all of these needs and opportunities can be accommodated in suitable locations on what is arguably the longest and most diverse municipal waterfront in the nation. The city's waterfront encompasses coastal beaches and pristine wetland habitats, small homes set beside lagoons and creeks, high-rise apartments and office buildings with magnificent views of bridges and skylines, parks and esplanades, airports and heliports, and bulkheaded areas active with shipping, industry and a variety of municipal uses.

The plan capitalizes on the size and diversity of the city's waterfront to address the historic competition between commerce and recreation for use of waterfront land. It seeks to balance these competing interests by recognizing the importance of environmental values, by adjusting to the decline of traditional working waterfront uses, by protecting the city's important maritime assets, and by identifying new opportunities for expanding public use of the waterfront and for increasing its economic value.

The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan builds on the experience of the past. At the same time, the plan addresses today's conditions and works within a myriad of legal and regulatory parameters affecting the use and development of the city's waterfront. The concept of "public trust", which establishes that certain waterfront benefits are held in trust for all the people, is fundamental to the plan. The federal Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, which led to the creation of the city's Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP), is another important legal basis for the waterfront plan. Although WRP has been a positive influence on waterfront development for almost a decade, a revised and enhanced WRP would better articulate the city's goals for differing sections of the waterfront.

The plan is organized around the four principal functions of the waterfront:

  • The Natural Waterfront, comprising beaches, wetlands, wildlife habitats, sensitive ecosystems and the water itself.
  • The Public Waterfront, including parks, esplanades, piers, street ends, vistas and waterways that offer public open spaces and waterfront views.
  • The Working Waterfront, where water dependent, maritime and industrial uses cluster or where various transportation and municipal facilities are dispersed.
  • The Redeveloping Waterfront, where land uses have recently changed or where vacant and underutilized properties suggest potential for beneficial change.

The plan for each of these waterfront uses describes its goals, resources and major issues, and proposes short- and long-term strategies to guide land use change, planning and coordination, and public investment. Each plan, though presented separately, is interwoven with the others so that, together, they create a comprehensive vision for the entire waterfront.

The plan highlights three of the city's preeminent natural areas -- encompassing roughly 30 percent of the waterfront -- and proposes public policies to preserve and enhance their outstanding natural features. All over the city, neighborhoods would be reconnected to the waterfront. More than 100 sites are recommended for new or improved waterside public spaces: nearly 50 new public parks and existing parks where new attractions could be created at the water's edge; 25 public street ends that, with modest improvements, couldprovide points of access for nearby residents and workers; and another 40 sites where public access would be a mandatory component of new residential or commercial development.

In response to the decline in manufacturing and the derelict condition of many waterfront industrial properties, the plan recommends that some 500 acres of manufacturing-zoned land be rezoned for residential, commercial and recreational use. Based on proposed densities, 50,000 to 75,000 housing units could be built on the parcels recommended for rezoning and on those that have already been approved (e.g. Hunters Point and Arverne). Even with these bold initiatives, the plan ensures that sufficient land will be available to meet the needs of industry and the working waterfront. Thirty percent of the city's shoreline is presently zoned for industrial use. Most of that zoning would remain in place, particularly in six Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas with an estimated total of 4,000 waterfront acres, where land use and public investment strategies would support and promote working waterfront uses.

As an essential counterpart to land use guidelines, the plan proposes an unprecedented set of zoning reforms that address the unique qualities of waterfront property. Waterfront zoning regulations, to be incorporated in a new section of the Zoning Resolution, would streamline the waterfront regulatory process, increase public access, facilitate water dependent uses, and encourage appropriately scaled waterfront development with a compatible and lively mix of uses.

A summary of the plan's principal recommendations follows.

To protect and enhance the city's natural resources, the plan for the Natural Waterfront distinguishes between waterfront areas characterized by a convergence of significant natural features and those with less environmental value which serve important social and economic functions. The plan presents a set of strategies to address natural waterfront issues citywide, and it designates three natural areas with special significance, which merit heightened attention and strategies tailored to their unique environments. WRP policies would be modified to give added weight and greater specificity to natural resource values in these areas.

Citywide Strategies
For the city's tidal and freshwater wetlands, enhanced regulatory coordination and management strategies are proposed to establish wetland acquisition priorities; consider appropriate development controls; reduce illegal dumping; and develop realistic mitigation alternatives for actions that would adversely affect existing wetlands.

The plan supports designation, as proposed by the Department of State, of 15 Significant Coastal Fish and Wildlife Habitats and suggests the development of specific buffer and stormwater runoff controls adjacent to these areas.

To combat coastal erosion, the plan calls for continuation of the federal government's beach nourishment program for Rockaway and Coney Island, including Seagate and Plumb Beach, and recommends the city's participation in the Long Island South Shore Monitoring Program.

The plan endorses continuation of the city's water quality improvement programs including upgrading water pollution control plants, advancing the Combined Sewer Overflow Abatement and Floatables Programs, and increasing water conservation efforts. It advocates a contaminated sediment dredging program to clean up Newtown Creek, Gowanus Canal and Coney Island Creek; and a coordinated citywide strategy to address non-point stormwater runoff pollution.

Special Natural Waterfront Areas
Jamaica Bay
is one of the few remaining intact natural ecosystems in New York City. The plan for Jamaica Bay recommends policy and program coordination in cooperation with the public-private Jamaica Bay Task Force to deal with buffer and non-point stormwater runoff standards, tidal circulation within the bay and illegal dumping in wetland and buffer areas. Disposition strategies are proposed for seven large city-owned sites. Parkland designation is recommended for much of this land; where development is proposed, guidelines would be imposed to protect natural features.

The Harbor Herons Complex, in the industrial northwest corner to Staten Island, is comprised of an interconnecting network of tidal and freshwater wetlands along the Arthur Kill. The plan proposes establishment of a management and research program, continued acquisition of sensitive ecosystems, development of specific buffer and stormwater runoff standards, and development of additional land use controls within this area, if determined to be necessary.

The Long Island Sound/Upper East River area is characterized by natural intertidal rocky shorelines, shallow bays, and tidal and freshwater wetlands. The plan calls for transfer of the most sensitive city-owned property to the Department of Parks and Recreation, limited acquisition of private property, street demapping in wetland areas and the development of specific buffer and stormwater runoff guidelines. The plan also acknowledges the potential for environmental restoration of Flushing Bay.

Waterfront views and easy access to the waterside for recreation and relaxation are eagerly sought amenities in cities everywhere. New York City is fortunate to have a vast, unique system of public parks that cover more than 40 percent of its shoreline. Another legacy -- undeveloped waterfront parkland, derelict harborfronts, and unevenly distributed waterfront access opportunities -- has left many of the city's communities with little or no connection to the water's edge.

One of the overriding principles of the waterfront plan is to reestablish the public's connection to the waterfront by creating opportunities for visual, physical and recreational access. New waterfront public access can be created throughout the city as a result of redevelopment, along with improved access at existing waterfront parks, and limited opportunities for new waterfront parks.

Regulatory Strategy
To ensure development of a more publicly accessible waterfront, the Zoning Resolution would be amended to establish mandatory waterfront access requirements in all medium-and high-density residential and commercial developments, and in large, low-density developments in multifamily zoning districts. It would also allow for the mapping of Waterfront Access Plans where local conditions warrant special consideration.

The public access provisions would require:

  • continuous access parallel to the shore;
  • upland connectors perpendicular to the shoreline;
  • additional publicly accessible open space as part of large developments;
  • no-build setbacks along all residential and commercial shoreline development;
  • minimum design standards; and
  • view corridors located to ensure visual access to the water.

Public Access Opportunities
The plan calls for waterfront access improvements in all five boroughs. The improvements would:

  • provide public waterfront access for adjacent underserved communities;
  • create linkages to extend the existing network;
  • promote tourism and provide visual relief in densely developed areas;
  • promote use of the water as a recreational resource; and
  • provide safe, usable and well-maintained waterside public spaces.

In the Bronx, linear public access corridors are proposed along the Hudson River, the Harlem River, Soundview Park and Ferry Point Park. A new connection to Randalls Island would increase access to this underutilized recreational resource. Development of point access, in the form of street ends and waterfront park nodes, is recommended along Eastchester Bay and at strategic locations in the industrial South Bronx.

The plan for Brooklyn proposes waterfront access along the East River and Upper Bay in conjunction with new waterfront development, and the use of public land and street ends to create public open spaces for communities that are presently cut off from their waterfronts. To the south, the plan recommends the eventual completion of a waterfront greenway along Shore Parkway, Coney Island, and Jamaica Bay. No public access is proposed along Newtown Creek or Gowanus Canal, major industrial areas.

Manhattan would be the most highly developed public shoreline owing to its density and the extent of its existing parks and esplanades. Continuous public access is recommended around virtually the entire borough. Gaps in the East Side public access system would be addressed by interim and long-term strategies. The plan recognizes the impracticality of continuous public access along the Harlem River and proposes bridge connections to an esplanade on the Bronx side of the river.

The plan for Queens, particularly along the East River, would incorporate new public access opportunities in redevelopment, and would link existing open spaces. Additional waterfront opportunities are possible at several locations along Flushing Bay and Long Island Sound. Along Jamaica Bay and the Rockaways, where most of the waterfront is public beach or environmentally-sensitive, there are nevertheless some opportunities to extend public access.

Several redevelopment opportunities along Staten Island's north shore would facilitate development of the North Shore Esplanade proposed by City Planning in 1988. Staten Island's public access system may also benefit from combined rail/trail use of the North Shore and Travis railroad rights-of-way and the eventual closure of the Fresh Kills Landfill. Improvements to the Island's south shore beachfront from Conference House Park to Fort Wadsworth will enhance this important recreational resource.


The city's working and industrial waterfront uses include four categories of water dependent uses: maritime support and industrial; marina and marina support; commercial excursion and boating; and transportation uses (ferries, airports, heliports and rail car float facilities). The working waterfront also includes municipal and utility uses, some of which are water dependent, and industrial uses that are not water dependent.

Certain water dependent uses tend to cluster in particular areas because of locational criteria or hydrographic conditions. Others are dispersed along the waterfront according to market or service catchment areas. Industrial uses for the most part are concentrated in areas with manufacturing zoning and good access to Manhattan.

Most of the port's ocean-going shipping is centered in New Jersey. Only portions of the Staten Island and Brooklyn waterfronts remain useful for this purpose. However, the city's side of the harbor contains several marine terminals, many of the port's maritime support services, and an increasing number of commercial excursion boats, marinas and ferries.

Fundamental objectives of the waterfront plan are to facilitate and encourage water dependent uses and to ensure the retention of sufficient manufacturing-zoned land to accommodate future needs. In support of these goals, the plan identifies infrastructure improvements necessary to sustain working waterfront uses, and opportunities for waterborne transportation of goods and people and for intermodal connections involving water, rail, highway and airport linkages.

Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas

Based upon criteria relating to the present and futureneeds of water dependent

industries, the plan designates six Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas to protect and encourage concentrated working waterfront uses.

  • The Kill Van Kull in Staten Island from Howland Hook to Snug Harbor
  • The Brooklyn waterfront from Erie Basin to Owls Head
  • The Brooklyn waterfront from Pier 6 through the Red Hook Containerport
  • The Brooklyn Navy Yard
  • The Queens and Brooklyn shores of Newtown Creek
  • The South Bronx (Port Morris and Hunts Point)

A number of actions are recommended for the Significant Areas to guide land use decisions, land disposition policy and public investment strategies, and to promote better interagency coordination to facilitate intermodal development. Maintaining the manufacturing zoning in these Significant Areas would ensure sufficient land to accommodate the future needs of the working waterfront. Disposition of publicly-owned property and municipal facilities proposed for locations within the Significant Areas should encourage the inclusion of water dependent elements and use of intermodal facilities. Access improvements are identified to provide better connections to the region's highway network for the movement of goods.


The plan recognizes the importance of Kennedy and LaGuardia airports to the local and regional economy and the need to ensure their safe operation. It calls for improvements that would support their operations and air cargo facilities, including better ground access and waterborne transportation of goods and people.

Citywide Strategy

In addition to strategies for the Significant Areas and Airports, the plan recommends capital investment, financing, and regulatory strategies for other waterfront industrial areas and for dispersed working waterfront uses. A proposed inter-agency task force would develop a long-range port improvement and investment program, including development priorities for port-related infrastructure. The Zoning Resolution would be amended to facilitate new water dependent developments by increasing the number of locations in which ferries, excursion boats, marinas and marina support facilities would be permitted. Public access in waterfront industrial areas would be encouraged only for public projects where safety could be assured and access designed to avoid interference with industrial uses.


With the decline of industrial and maritime uses on the waterfront, some areas currently zoned for manufacturing, as well as areas zoned for residential and commercial development, offer opportunities for redevelopment that would revitalize the waterfront. Redevelopment of these areas for residential, office, retail and community facility uses could create important opportunities for public access and open space.

In addition to identifying locations where new residential or commercial development is currently permitted and no further discretionary planning approvals are needed, the plan proposes changes in land use for large vacant or underutilized sites where new development would be appropriate. Many of these sites are in manufacturing zones where the land is not needed for industrial development and where reuse would generate jobs, revenues and new residential communities.

Past rezonings and other discretionary actions for waterfront redevelopment have highlighted the inadequacies of the Zoning Resolution in regulating waterfront development, particularly with respect to public access and open space, design controls, and view corridors. Waterfront revitalization also has been constrained by regulations that limit water-related uses such as ferries, accessory marinas, floating restaurants, and seasonal commercial uses along esplanades.

Regulatory review and infrastructure capacity also affect the timing, location, use and density of new waterfront development. The waterfront plan can facilitate redevelopment by establishing land use policies and zoning controls that provide a predictable framework for new construction.

Redevelopment Opportunities

The goals of waterfront redevelopment can be achieved in large part by two mechanisms: amending the text of the Zoning Resolution to better regulate waterfront development, and applying the amended regulations to specific areas appropriate for rezoning.

The land use criteria considered in determining areas appropriate for reuse include the presence of substantial amounts of vacant or underutilized land; absence of unique or significant natural features or, if present, the potential for compatible development; proximity to residential or commercial uses; the potential for strengthening upland residential or commercial areas and for opening up the waterfront to the public; the availability of neighborhood services; and the number of jobs potentially displaced balanced against the new opportunities created by redevelopment.

In the Bronx, several sites on vacant or underutilized land along the Harlem River would be suitable for medium-density residential development. There are fewer redevelopment opportunities along the East Bronx waterfront which is lined with major parks, natural areas and built-up residential neighborhoods. Previously approved lower-density residential projects in the East Bronx include Shorehaven and Castle Hill Estates.

The Brooklyn waterfront from Newtown Creek south to Owls Head Park is zoned for manufacturing. Although the zoning would be retained along most of this waterfront, several privately-owned sites in Greenpoint and Williamsburg meet the criteria for residential reuse. Brooklyn Piers 1 through 5 and a portion of the Red Hook peninsula also provide redevelopment opportunities. To the south, opportunities include the rebuilding of Steeplechase Amusement Park and housing development in Coney Island, and commercial development to complement the "fishing village" character of Sheepshead Bay.

In Manhattan, specific redevelopment opportunities along the West Side and in Lower Manhattan will be shaped largely by several planning efforts under way. Redevelopment nodes on the West Side have been designated to allow for a balanced revitalization program. The East Side and Lower Manhattan offer locations for a mix of water-related and publicly-oriented uses, for example, a reconstructed ferry terminal with stores and restaurants. Feasibility studies are being conducted for the proposed Harlem on the Hudson project at West 125th Street, and a portion of the Sherman Creek industrial area is recommended for rezoning.

In western Queens, the Hunters point mixed use project and the nearby East River Tennis Club project were previously approved, and residential reuse of selected sites north of these projects is recommended. On the Flushing River, a portion of underutilized M3 land presents opportunities to extend the downtown to the waterfront and provide open space. In addition to the approved Arverne residential project in the Rockaways, redevelopment and revitalization is recommended in the Edgemere section through construction of housing, support services and infrastructure improvements.

Along Staten Island's north shore, the St. George Ferry Terminal and the adjacent Chessie Rail Yard site provide opportunities for a new civic, transportation and visitor center, as well as medium-density residential and commercial development. Several lower-density projects are under way or have been approved for the Outerbridge area and the south shore near Tottenville. Sections of the industrially-zoned area south of the Outerbridge Crossing may be suitable for lower-density housing and water-related uses.

The redevelopment opportunities identified in each borough represent a diversified mix of uses and densities. The choice of areas balances waterfront planning objectives by taking into consideration the needs and goals of the working, natural and public waterfronts.


In accordance with comprehensive plan recommendations, the waterfront zoning proposal would introduce mandatory public access requirements, encourage water dependent and waterfront-enhancing uses, and ensure that the scale of development is appropriate for the waterfront. The proposed regulations, which would apply primarily on waterfront blocks, would require public access and view corridors in most non-industrial developments. They would establish specific height and setback requirements and regulate uses, bulk and height on piers and platforms. Many of the specific controls would exempt water dependent and industrial uses; others would be modified to foster water dependent uses like ferries and marinas and water-enhancing recreation and commercial activities in more locations.

The proposed changes generally would be applicable only when areas are rezoned or redeveloped for residential or commercial use. To the extent possible, the proposal incorporates as-of-right regulations to streamline the regulatory process, make zoning more predictable, and minimize the cost of development and city regulation.

Waterfront Use Regulations

The proposal would foster water dependent and water-enhancing uses by expanding the range of zoning districts in which they are permitted. For example, sightseeing or excursion boats, now permitted only in manufacturing districts, would also be permitted in several commercial districts. Ocean-going passenger ships would be permitted in central business districts as well as manufacturing districts, to expand the uses permitted where the ship terminals are presently located or where they would be desirable. To broadenopportunities for marina development, the proposal would permit marinas constructed as part of a residential development to be used by non-residents as well.

Floating Structures

Water dependent uses, small restaurants and cultural activities would be encouraged on floating structures. Special permits would be required for other water-enhancing uses and such uses as government facilities and power plants.

Waterfront Public Access

The proposal would establish mandatory requirements for public access on waterfront zoning lots in mid- to high-density residential and commercial developments, and in large residential developments in lower-density zoning districts permitting multifamily development. Public access requirements would not be imposed on industrial uses. Although public access generally would not be required in lower-density residential developments, developments would be required to maintain a no-build zone along the waterfront for future public access should the city choose to provide it.

Residential and commercial developments would be required to provide public open space at the water's edge at the time of development, and public access and visual connections to these areas from the first upland street. Additional public open space would be required in certain instances. The generic requirements could be modified by mapping waterfront public access plans where the local context warrants a site-specific plan (e.g., to enhance a significant scenic view or to connect public parks).

Floor Area

To control the scale of waterside development, floor area would no longer be generated by lands under water beyond the bulkhead line, except for that portion of the lot covered by existing piers and platforms. Most of the underwater land, particularly in Manhattan, is owned by the city. The possible transfer of bulk generated by piers and platforms to the upland portion of the zoning lot would be limited.

Piers and Platforms

New bulk controls and public access requirements would limit height, achievable floor area, and the placement of development on existing piers. Water dependent uses would be exempt from these requirements. Existing platforms would be subject to the same use, public access, visual corridor and bulk regulations as the upland lot. New piers and platforms would be permitted only for the development of water dependent and waterfront enlivening uses.

Height and Setback

In lower-density (R1 through R5) districts, the existing zoning regulations, which limit height to 40 feet, would ensure appropriately scaled waterfront development. In mid- to high-density (R6 through R10) zones, two options would be available: either the existing Quality Housing contextual zoning which encourages relatively low buildings, or a new set of bulk regulations tailored to the unique conditions of a waterfront setting. The existing "height factor" zoning in non-contextual R6 through R10 districts permits towers that might be excessively tall at the water's edge. If contextual regulations were used exclusively, however, they might not produce an interesting, varied and visual open waterfront.

The proposed waterfront bulk regulations would replace height factor zoning in non-contextual mid- to high-density residential districts and their commercial equivalents. The new mandatory regulations would be flexible enough to permit the lower building forms of contextual zoning, but would also allow taller buildings of varied designs that maintain an urban context. Unlike height factor zoning, maximum height limits would be established and at least one-half the floor area in each building would have to be located below a certain height to reinforce the traditional street wall character and provide "eyes on the street". The proposed regulations would require building setbacks at specified levels to place the tower elements (if included) further from streets, visual corridors and public areas on the waterfront.


Parking regulations would exclude parking from public access areas and open spaces, and parking areas on waterfront blocks would have to be screened from public spaces. To provide greater site planning flexibility, the proposal would permit accessory parking to be located off-site if it met certain location, size and screening conditions.


Taken together, the land use changes, zoning text amendments, public investment strategies and regulatory revisions recommended in this plan signal a new beginning for the city's waterfront. The collaborative process that guided development of the plan will continue this fall when the Department of City Planning convenes a series of public meetings with community boards, public officials and agencies, and civic and neighborhood organizations. In response to the ensuing dialogue, the Department will modify the plan as appropriate, file zoning text amendments for public review, and revise the Waterfront Revitalization Program.

The challenge ahead is to set a realistic course of action that will preserve our natural resources, strengthen our economy by providing new housing and jobs, and reclaim the city's edge for public use and enjoyment.

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