The Department of City Planning is considering a “Zone Green” amendment to citywide regulations that would offer many more buildings the opportunity to install, especially, wind turbines, but also other energy-saving devices such as rooftop greenhouses, solar panels, and insulation added right on to a structure’s facade.
Also a possibility: more custom-designed “shade structures” over windows, like the ones currently up and down the love-it-or-hate-it New York Times building in Times Square. And the ability to add up to 8″ of insulation on the exterior of a building. What could be bad about all of that, right? Using less fossil-fuel-based energy and more alternative, “clean” sources to heat and power New York City homes is nothing but a win for everyone, yes?
And unlike seemingly most zoning proposals, the so-called “Zone Green” proposal actually relaxes many current regulations, allowing many of these eco-friendly energy savers to be installed in places and ways not currently allowed.
While the proposal for adding exterior insulation is fraught with potential perils (talk about ruining the facade of a builing), and some people are concerned about solar panels being installed where current height restrictions prevent them, the components of the Zone Green proposal garnering the most attention seems to be the ability to add wind turbines, and greenhouses, to existing and new buildings.
Here’s the thing: under the new Zone Green regulations, wind turbines, for example, could be placed on any building not currently under landmark, or on a landmark-protected block. And if a building’s over 100 feet high (roughly 10 stories), the turbine can tower up to 55-feet high above the roof, regardless of any previous height restrictions in the community (remember: the Zone Green amendment would apply to buildings anywhere in New York City, so that’s a LOT of potential turbines). There would be a 10-foot setback restriction in place, however.
On waterfront blocks, the proposed green zoning changes are a little different, as it pertains to wind turbines. All buildings (except in low-density districts) could have rooftop turbines up to half the height of the building, or 55 feet, whichever is less. In addition, free-standing wind turbines would be permitted in non-residential areas on waterfront blocks. Of course, all installations would have to comply with Department of Buildings codes.
Obviously, wind turbines make sense mostly in areas where there’s a near-constant wind–in other words, by the river or on top of high buildings–so for that reason alone it’s unlikely that most residents will be bombarded with visual turbine pollution. Although that hasn’t stopped some residents from arguing this part of the Zone Green proposal will result in visual blight.
On the other hand, if you’ve ever seen a large number of wind turbines (or windmills) in action, there’s something relaxing about watching them spin, similar to how watching a running stream or small river can be relaxing. It could add an interesting juxtapostion above the busy city landscape–and create energy in an eco-friendly way.
Still, since New York City currently has zero wind turbines in operation, the possibility of unintended and/or unforeseen consequences loom large (and are the source of much of the publich criticism thus far), such as noise problems (are turbines loud?) and, for example, missile-like chunks of ice flying off the spinning structures.
The proposed green zoning amendment also allows the City Planning Commission chairperson to certify rooftop greenhouses to be exempt from existing floor-area and height limits on a building, as long as these greenhouse structures do not have any residences or sleeping quarters. To be eligible, the greenhouse must not be more than 25 foot high, be set back from the roof edge by 6 feet and must limit water consumption via practical means.
Residents have expressed concern to this part of the Zone Green proposal, mostly due to fears that the definition of “greenhouse” would be abused, and would come to encompass things like party rooms. The restriction against containing residences (and, thus, limiting the ability of developers to add penthouses that otherwise wouldn’t be allowed under existing zoning), may need to be strenghtend to define what exactly constitutes a greenhouse.
City Planning has already referred the Zone Green amendment to all of the city’s 51 community boards, borough boards and borough presidents for comments, and the time period for that closed at the end of February. The measure now goes to a hearing, and a final draft from the City Planning Commission, based on input from the public and the boards. The City Council has final say on the amendment. Stay tuned!
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