City of Yes

Economic Opportunity

"OPEN" Lighted Sign
Source: Mayor’s Photography Office

Our local businesses are the lifeblood of our neighborhoods. They need clear and sensible rules that give them the flexibility to change and grow – especially as our city recovers from COVID-19. City of Economic Opportunity is a proposal to update zoning regulations that affect businesses across the city to promote an equitable and resilient economy for all New Yorkers.

The proposal seeks to support small businesses and entrepreneurs by removing outdated limitations on businesses and ensuring that local retail streets and commercial centers across the city can remain lively places that sustain our neighborhoods.


What would City of Economic Opportunity do?

In 2017, the City repealed the Cabaret Law, a restriction on dancing steeped in a history of racial discrimination. Despite this important move to embrace our city’s cultural diversity, restrictions on dancing in commercial establishments remain in zoning.

City of Economic Opportunity would ensure that people who get up and dance at a bar or restaurant are not breaking the law.

The economy has changed significantly since our current commercial zoning rules were written. Many existing limitations no longer serve the needs of neighborhoods, and they are obstacles for businesses trying to find space in the city.

City of Economic Opportunity would update these regulations to allow a wider range of businesses, as appropriate, in many commercial districts.

3D Printing
3D printing

Food, craft, and other production activities are typically confined to manufacturing districts to protect public health and safety. However, for modern businesses with clean technologies, these rules create unreasonable restrictions.

City of Economic Opportunity would update zoning rules to provide additional pathways for appropriate and safe uses in commercial areas, such as 3D printing, bakeries, or brewpubs .

City of Economic Opportunity would remove outdated and rigid requirements that prevent buildings from accommodating new types of businesses. For example, under today’s rules, if a new business wants to occupy a vacant building, they may face an extremely costly renovation due to outdated loading dock requirements.

By relaxing rules such as these where appropriate, our buildings can adapt and continue to provide space for businesses to locate and thrive in NYC.

Many commercial areas have ground floor design rules, such as requirements for windows on certain storefronts, aimed at improving the pedestrian experience next to the building. These rules vary from one neighborhood to the next and may be confusing to business, residents and property owners.

City of Economic Opportunity would create consistent ground floor design requirements to better ensure that retail and commercial streets remain active and attractive.  

City of Economic Opportunity would create additional options, separate from already established districts, to build loft-style buildings to accommodate a range of uses that safely meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s economy. These districts would require subsequent public review before being put on the city zoning map

Why is this initiative needed?

To support commercial corridors and entrepreneurs throughout the city, and reduce retail vacancy, we need modern zoning regulations that help the city adapt in a dynamic and evolving economy.

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of flexibility in our zoning regulations. Businesses small and large are reevaluating how they use space, where to locate, and how they function in the face of changing consumer preferences and economic conditions.

Entrepreneurs in New York City have always experimented to develop new business models that make our city more vibrant and dynamic. Yet zoning rules that describe where different types of businesses are allowed have barely changed since 1961.

These often confusing and outdated regulations make it harder for mom-and-pop stores and other entrepreneurs to open, grow, and adapt in New York City.

City of Economic Opportunity would support businesses and job growth by ensuring a wider range of businesses can use existing commercial space. The proposal would make sure that our zoning is flexible enough for empty storefronts to be activated by businesses that serve our neighborhoods.

This initiative is part of Mayor Adams’ Rebuild, Renew, and Reinvent: A Blueprint for New York City’s Economic recovery. The proposal draws on years of NYC Planning research including the 2021 Zoning for a Resilient Economy report.

Contact Us

NYC Planning is researching these topics and is interested in hearing from business owners who have had trouble locating or growing due to outdated or confusing zoning requirements.

To share your perspective, or to ask questions, please contact EconomicOpportunity@planning.nyc.gov.


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