Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment

Update June 21, 2016 - Approved!

On June 21, 2016, the City Council adopted the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment with modifications.


The Department of City Planning (DCP), the Alliance for Downtown New York (ADNY),, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC) are proposing a zoning text amendment to Manhattan Community District 1’s Special Lower Manhattan District (along and near Water Street) to:

  • allow by Chairperson certification and City Planning Commission authorization the infill of existing arcades for retail use and the improvement of existing plazas;
  • allow public events, programs and the placement of publicly accessible tables and chairs within plazas and arcades as-of-right ;
  • continue to allow cafes within arcades by certification.

The proposed text amendment would apply to the area generally bounded by Pearl Street and South William Street to the west, Fulton Street to the north, South Street to the east, and Whitehall Street to the south (the “Water Street Subdistrict”). Within this area are 20 buildings with a total of approximately 225,000 square feet of public plazas and 110,000 square feet of arcades that generated more than 2.5 million square feet of bonus floor area.

The proposed zoning text amendment would apply to the plazas and arcades located within the Water Street Subdistrict. PDF Document View a larger image.

Arcades are continuous covered areas along a building frontage that are open to a street or plaza, and are free and clear of obstructions. While the Water Street arcades were intended to provide a continuous covered pathway along the street, they set the ground floors away from the sidewalk; are too deep or too narrow; have columns that are too thick or too close to one another; have low levels of lighting; and often dead-end. These issues, together, make the arcades unattractive for pedestrian use and do not contribute to improving pedestrian circulation along the street. Furthermore, by causing the building ground floors to be set back from the sidewalk, ground floor uses have limited visibility and fail to engage passersby, thereby affecting the vitality of these commercial spaces and causing many of the ground floors to be used for unengaging lobby uses instead.

Arcade at 7 Hanover Square
Caption Text
Arcade at 32 Old Slip.

Plazas are public spaces that are open and exposed to the sky and may, depending on the year the space was developed, contain amenities such as seating and trees. The Water Street plazas often lack any planting and are dominated by hardscape; there are few, if any, seating opportunities; are lined with blank walls and lobbies; the largest plazas are too large and do not relate well to pedestrians; and the smallest plazas are too narrow and effectively serve as pedestrian circulation space. These plazas were provided at a time when no amenities were required; plazas today are subject to improved design requirements that require many amenities such as seating, planting, and retail frontages.

Plaza at One New York Plaza
Plaza at 160 Water Street.

The improvements that would be facilitated by the proposed zoning text amendment would, among other things, create opportunities for: (1) the creation of active, visible, and useful retail and service establishments for nearby residents, workers, and visitors; (2) the provision of useful amenities such as seating, planting, drinking fountains, and improved lighting to offer safe and comfortable public spaces for many types of users; and (3) events and the temporary activation of larger public spaces that lend themselves to such activities. The proposed zoning text amendment would also fulfill the resilience initiatives identified for the Water Street area in the City’s A Stronger, More Resilient New York report.

Arcade Infill and Active Retail Uses

The proposed zoning text would allow horizontal enlargements (“infill”) within underperforming arcades for retail and lobby uses by certification or authorization as part of comprehensive upgrades to building ground floors. New building walls would extend for the full height and length of an arcade, and would be located at or near the outside face of a column. Uses located within arcade infill would be retail uses that are typical of streets such as Fulton Street and Broadway, but are intended to primarily serve nearby residents and employees. Restaurants, clothing stores, drug stores, and art galleries are among the many types of uses that could be located within arcade infill. Lobbies for the primary building use (office or residential) would still have frontage on the ground floor, but their presence (i.e. amount of occupied street frontage) would be reduced from the full frontage lobbies that are typical of Water Street today.

Most, if not all, buildings in the Water Street Subdistrict are not able to utilize the existing Chairperson certification (Section 33-124(a)) or the existing CPC special permit (Section 74-761) to eliminate the entirety of their arcades and have enough floor area available for infill. The proposed zoning text will exempt the new arcade infill from the definition of floor area, subject to the requirements described above and the provision of an improved plaza.

Arcade infill will bring the ground floor activity closer to the sidewalk to more effectively engage pedestrians and help improve the vitality of potential retail uses. Infill along plazas will help promote utilization of the public spaces, and will provide active uses with increased foot traffic that could make the public spaces inviting and safe. Infill that extends for the full length, depth, and height of an arcade would maintain the strong street wall condition of the existing Water Street buildings while ensuring that no uninviting, narrow “leftover” spaces are created within the already-underutilized arcades.

Improving Public Plazas

When an arcade infilled for retail use, significant improvements to existing plazas on the zoning lot would be required. Plazas would be upgraded to more closely meet the design standards for new public spaces contained in Section 37-70 of the Zoning Resolution. Useful public amenities such as trees, planting, fixed and moveable seating, drinking fountains, lighting, public space signage and bicycle racks would be provided. The plaza upgrades would need to fully comply with the modified plaza regulations of the proposed zoning text amendment, which are intended to facilitate the creation of usable, quality, and safe public spaces while also recognizing the practical challenges that may be presented by existing site conditions (i.e. subsurface conditions, irregular plaza configuration, changes in elevation, etc.).

Existing view of 1 New York Plaza looking north
Existing view of 1 New York Plaza looking north.
An example of how the provisions of the proposed zoning text could be implemented at 1 New York Plaza
An example of how the provisions of the proposed zoning text could be implemented at 1 New York Plaza.

Activating Plazas

The proposed zoning text would facilitate more activity in plazas and arcades along Water Street by allowing free, non-ticketed events as-of-right. The types of programming that are expected would be similar to the Downtown Alliance’s “Game On!” series of events that took place over the past two summers within many of the Water Street plazas. Examples of events and programming include farmers’ markets, shuffleboard, mini golf, beer gardens, food truck festivals, and music performances.

The proposed zoning text would also allow movable public seating to be placed within the plazas and arcades as-of-right. The placement of tables and chairs is a low-cost, high-impact means of temporarily and immediately activating public spaces by providing much-needed seating opportunities, especially in plazas that lack any amenities.

Flood Resilience

Ground floor commercial uses may employ temporary flood control devices that would be deployed before a storm and disassembled after the storm. Such systems may involve shields that are placed between building columns, or an off-building system that is anchored to the building structure at several locations. Such systems may be more structural in nature (secured to the ground and/or building), unlike the temporary barriers that many existing buildings within the flood zone throughout New York may have already implemented.

The issues of simultaneously seeking flood-resistant retail space while continuing to provide active retail space and street life is not unique to Water Street. Resilient Retail is a planning initiative to strengthen retail corridors throughout the City’s floodplain with the goal of developing land use recommendations to help businesses and the neighborhoods they serve withstand and recover quickly from future storms and flood events.

View the PDF Document proposed text amendment.

On January 19, 2016 the proposed Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment (N 106166 ZRM) was referred to Manhattan Community Board 1 and the Manhattan Borough President.

On March 30, 2016, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the proposed text amendment.

Land Use Review MilestoneDates
Department of City Planning Referral January 19, 2016
Community Board Approval March 22, 2016
Borough President Approval March 25, 2016
City Planning Commission Public Hearing March 30, 2016
City Planning Commission Approval with modifications*
PDF Document View the CPC Report.
April 25, 2016
City Council Adoption with Modifications** June 21, 2016

* CPC modifications:

On April 25, 2016, the Commission approved the proposed text amendment with the following modifications:

  • Establishment of a 45-day timeframe for the Community Board to review certifications for arcade infill and plaza improvements
  • Expansion of the requirement for multiple establishments on the longest frontage of arcade infill to facilitate retail variety
  • Exclusion of Use Group 5A (hotel rooms) from locating within arcade infill


* City Council modifications:

On June 21, 2016, the City Council adopted the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment with the following modifications:

  • The approval process for arcade infill and plaza upgrades:
    • Infill of 7,500 square feet or greater will require a special permit pursuant to a new Section 91-85. Any area that was previously approved by a certification or authorization must be included in the calculation of the total area, except for any indoor public space which can be excluded.
    • Infill at 200 Water Street and 75 Wall Street, which was previously permitted by certification, is now permitted by authorization .
    • Applications for certifications for arcade infill and plaza improvements must  be referred to the Council Member in addition to the Community Board.
    • Periodic compliance reports for improved plazas and new indoor public spaces must  be sent to the Council Member, in addition to the Community Board and the Director of the Department of City Planning.
  • Requirements for uses within arcade infill:
    • More restrictions on the uses permitted within arcade infill (per the Use Groups).  
    • Frontage restrictions are established for banks (30 feet) and drug stores (50 feet).
    • Addition of a finding to the authorization to modify design requirements (Section 91-842).
    • For buildings with multiple arcade openings , if any portion of the arcade remains open (and the other portions are filled in), requirements for lighting, transparency and the treatment of building walls apply.
  • Holding events in plazas and arcades:
    • Notification must be given to the Community Board, Borough President and Council Member of any event at least 30 days before the scheduled date.
  • Minor edits to clarify some of the language .

200 Water Street

On December 13, 2017, the City Planning Commission approved an authorization to allow the partial infill of the arcade and full improvement of the plazas at 200 Water Street (N 170284 ZAM). This is the first application under the Water Street Upgrades Text Amendment to be approved. Read the PDF Document statement by Chair Lago. An abbreviated version of this statement was delivered at the December 13, 2017 public meeting prior to the vote.

For more information, contact the Manhattan Office of the Department of City Planning at 212-720-3400.

In the summer of 2013, the Department of City Planning and the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) launched the Water Street POPS Upgrades Initiative to encourage and facilitate the transformation of the corridor’s privately owned public spaces (POPS) and ground floor retail spaces into active and welcoming destinations. A consultant team helped develop design concepts for comprehensive upgrades to the street’s POPS and building ground floors. The study, which builds upon other past DCP initiatives such as the Lower Manhattan Arcades Text Amendment and the Water Street POPS Programming, focuses on the nineteen buildings within the area generally bounded by Fulton, Pearl, Whitehall, and South Streets that have one or more POPS. The study presents a framework for comprehensive upgrades and informed the proposed amendments to the Zoning Resolution to facilitate the improvements envisioned in this report.