The Big Apple goes green: “Zone Green” in NYC


Posted by & filed under Local, Our Blog Posts, Regional, State.

Via Verde, developed by Phipps Houses Group and ESF Coalition Member Jonathan Rose, is just one example of the green building renaissance that will grow stronger under the new zoning regulations.  Photo Courtesy:


The New York City Council recently passed a series of zoning amendments, called “Zone Green,” that will provide opportunities and streamline the process for those wanting to build and live green in NYC.  While dense living and transit access has always made the city one of the more sustainable places to live, the changes to the zoning code clears the way for green technologies, lowering energy costs, reducing emissions and allowing a greater diversity of New Yorkers to embrace a more sustainable way of living.

The purpose of Zone Green is “to remove zoning impediments to the construction and retrofitting of green buildings.”  Zone Green includes modifications to the city’s zoning rules, allowing for easier implementation of solar and wind power systems on new construction, along with retrofitting existing buildings.  The new zoning works to implement the PlaNYC initiative, which sets an ambitious goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30% by 2030.

The new zoning regulations will allow the city to incorporate the many efficient energy technologies that have come about since the last time New York’s zoning laws were updated, in 1961. The modifications to the zoning laws will make upgrading and retrofitting buildings easier by streamlining the process of approval.

A large solar array planned for the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Photo Courtesy NYCEDC

Buildings can now be outfitted with additional external insulation while exempting this additional insulation from floor area calculations and other regulations. The use of sun control devices and awnings to reduce air conditioning and lighting bills is now allowed, and solar panels can be installed on flat roofs anywhere below the parapet, regardless of building height.  Wind turbines on buildings taller than 100’ are acceptable under NY’s new Zone Green.

This concept adapts the zoning regulations in which New York residents and developers have struggled with. Prior to Zone Green–partially as a result of height restrictions on buildings– skylights, solar panels and vegetative roofs were prohibited. The loosening of these restrictions can influence energy efficient upgrades and self-production of wind and solar energy. The relocation of a boiler to a rooftop, now allowed by the zoning modifications, eliminates the need for a lengthy and inefficient exhaust chimney. Green roofs improve insulation, provide the opportunity for localized food production, can help stormwater management and even reduce the ‘heat island’ effect.  Zone Green allows this popular method to be employed in an even more productive manner. The availability of these green processes will hopefully lead to greater adoption of the technology.

The changes have the opportunity to benefit all  types of buildings within the city– commercial, industrial and residential alike. New and old buildings can adopt these benefits through many state, federal and local tax incentives programs.  Retrofitting buildings, such as the renovation of affordable housing in Harlem, is one of the largest opportunities to gain more efficiency.  Tenants and building owners both are rewarded with lower costs due to the benefits that improvement such as green roofs that cool and solar panels that reduce energy use can bring. Increased options for insulation on buildings, both new and old, can reduce heating and cooling costs— the previous zoning regulation often prohibited adding exterior insulation to buildings. The Zone Green initiative allows developers and building owners to now add needed insulation without sacrificing crucial floor area and open space. The amendment also allows sun-control devices such as shades and awnings. The efficiency of this new process—not requiring extensive review and approval procedures—will significantly improve the ability to use such technologies.

There will also be economic benefits that arise from the amendment, as jobs will be created to help bring buildings up to date and produce and install green technologies. The decreased energy costs for consumers as well will save money and reduce emissions, with the city estimating a potential $800 million annually in energy savings. Lower demand will also lessen the need for new power generation, which is almost impossible to site. The incentive for these improvements is the added value brought to the building itself, in the form of better insulation, reduction in energy bills, and the attractiveness of a green roof. Even in affordable housing, these improvements not only monetarily enhance the value but also can add to quality of life.

85% of the buildings that will exist in 2030 in NYC are currently standing. Taking advantage of our existing housing stock and retrofitting these buildings with sustainable and economical upgrades helps preserve and protect for the future.


 This article was contributed by Jaime McKay, ESF Project Assistant

Comments are closed.