The Planning Department (DCP) proposed text changes to modify and expand the existing Food to Support Health Retail Expansion (FRESH) program under ZR 63-00 for neighborhood grocery stores and supermarkets all over town. The request to change the zoning text was submitted for public review by the Planning Commission (CPC) on May 19.
The FRESH program was established in 2009 to encourage the construction of supermarkets in areas underserved by grocery stores. The genesis of the program was the 2008 Going to Market study, which found that in many neighborhoods there was a shortage of grocery stores and supermarkets. The study also found that in many neighborhoods, drug stores, convenience stores, and discount stores were the largest segment of grocery retailers, but these stores generally did not sell fresh produce.
The existing program includes several incentives to encourage grocery stores selling fresh food in identified neighborhoods (Upper Manhattan, South Bronx, Central Brooklyn and Jamaica, Queens). FRESH food stores are defined as food stores (use group 6) with a minimum of 6,000 square feet and with a certain allocation percentage for perishable and non-perishable food sales areas. Zoning incentives include: (i) additional residential square footage equal to the lesser of FRESH food store square footage or 20,000 square feet; (ii) reduced parking requirements; and (iii) authorize supermarkets with a maximum area of 30,000 square feet in M1 neighborhoods. A certification from the president of the town planning commission is required for a development to benefit from the FRESH program. Certification requirements include a signed lease or letter of engagement from a FRESH food operator and an act restriction (known as a “restrictive statement”) meeting the requirement that there be a use of FRESH food store on property. In addition, by authorization, CPC can allow a building to exceed the maximum height limits applicable in its zoning district up to 15 feet to accommodate a FRESH food store.
Text changes proposed by the DCP
The changes to the text amending the FRESH program are the result of a joint hearing evaluating the FRESH program by the city council sub-committee on zoning and franchises and the Committee on Economic Development and an updated DCP analysis of grocery stores and city supermarkets. The changes propose an extension and update of the program limits, a mechanism to prevent over-concentration of FRESH food stores, a change to the glazing requirement for conversions involving FRESH food stores, changes to the parking regulations and clarifications of the existing text.
- Expansion of the FRESH border: DCP proposes to extend the applicability of the FRESH program to other regions of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
- Concentration prevention mechanism: To avoid over-concentration of FRESH food stores, this proposed text change limits the sum of additional residential floor areas resulting from the FRESH program (ZR 63-30) within a half-mile radius to 40,000 square feet. DCP’s stated rationale is that an unforeseen concentration of FRESH supermarkets has the potential not only to push existing supermarkets into bankruptcy, but also to induce too many buildings taller than the underlying zoning allows.
- Waive the glazing requirements: This proposed text change will remove the glazing requirement for conversion projects involving FRESH food stores. Currently, the minimum transparency rule requires that 50% of the ground floor street wall be glazed with transparent materials. However, based on feedback from land use planning applicants, developers and supermarket operators, this requirement is too onerous and costly for conversions. Therefore, the proposed text change would remove the transparency requirement for conversions.
- Reduced parking requirements: This proposed text change includes parking relief in low density residential zoning districts with commercial overlays. These districts typically have smaller sites, and with the underlying zoning requirements for parking, applicants might find it difficult to take full advantage of the program. The proposed wording change addresses this problem by exempting FRESH food stores up to 10,000 square feet from the requirement to park.
- Other details: This proposed update will remove onerous requirements for deed restrictions when additional residential floor space is not requested as part of the FRESH project. The amendment to the text would also require that at least 6,000 square feet of retail space for FRESH food stores be located on the first floor of a building, and it would change the percentages of space allocated to perishable foods. and non-perishable.