City Council Report Eyes Mftg. Reboot
Looking to rev up “engines of opportunity,” the City Council released a report last week on ways to kick industrial and manufacturing into high gear across the five boroughs.
The report, officially announced by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito last Wednesday, Nov. 19, recommended that the city adopt new zoning codes and land use tools to encourage growth of new industries and keep existing ones in operation for years to come.
“New York City’s industrial sector bolsters our local economies and provides strong stable jobs for our workforce,” Mark-Viverito said in a statement. “The proposals outlined in our report shed light on how we can harness the power of manufacturing to grow and diversify our city’s economic and community development, while balancing the need for livable neighborhoods.”
“Preserving and creating manufacturing jobs and space where these jobs can exist is extremely important for my district and the city as a whole,” added City Council Member Antonio Reynoso, who represents the South of Myrtle Avenue (SOMA) Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) in Ridgewood. “Keeping manufacturing in the city encourages both economic development and sustainability, and it is important that we remember this as we consider what development looks like in this new administration. The manufacturing sector provides the high-quality jobs with low barriers to entry that allow families to stay and flourish in the city, and we want to make sure it is encouraged and expanded.”
Titled “Engines of Opportunity,” the report pointed out that nearly 350,000 New Yorkers-approximately 10 percent of the city’s private sector workforce-are employed in industrial or manufacturing jobs in the city. The average income for these positions in Brooklyn and Queens-about $51,000 annually-is more than twice the average salary of service sector jobs.
Having these high-paying jobs is critical to New York City’s economic vitality, it was noted. The report cited a U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis statistic indicating that every dollar in the final sale of manufactured goods generates $1.33 in additional output.
After years of declining industry in New York City, the sector appears to be on the rebound. The report cited growth over the last 13 years in food and beverage manufacturing, wood and metal works and high-tech electronic manufacturing. Traditional industries such as chemical, paper and textile manufacturing, however, fell during the period.
The city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) created the SOMA IBZ in Ridgewood, and others like it across the five boroughs, to foster manufacturing and industrial development in an area where such industries waned in recent years. While industries left Ridgewood, some property owners decided to leave their manufacturing-zoned lots fallow in the hope they would be rezoned for residential development; others allowed for their properties to be reused for as-of-right purposes such as nightclubs or storage facilities.
The City Council report recommended that the city create “industrial employment districts” in IBZs and other areas where “there is a concentration of manufacturing and industrial activity.” Zoning regulations would be altered to protect established businesses while fostering development of new industries.
This would include expanding the floor area ratio (FAR) of manufacturing lots, enabling companies to increase the size of their factories.
The report also recommended “creative economy districts” consisting of areas with a diverse mix of industrial, manufacturing, commercial and residential spaces. These districts would aim to attract light industries such as technology, media, arts and design.
New zoning rules would be implemented in these areas encouraging owners to develop their properties for industrial or manufacturing purposes and barring them from converting them into other uses.
Finally, the city would also adopt special mixed-use zoning text allowing for buildings to house both light industry and residential units.
In phone interviews with the Times Newsweekly, business leaders welcomed the City Council report as a “first step” toward preserving and growing the city’s industrial and manufacturing sectors.
“I think it opens the discussion,” said Jean Tanler of the Maspeth Industrial Business Association (MIBA), which operates the Maspeth IBZ. “It’s very encouraging that the City Council is looking at how to better serve industrial and manufacturing businesses in New York City. … I found the report very thoughtful.”
“We’re glad the mixed use designation is finally being looked at,” added Ted Renz, executive director of the Ridgewood Local Development Corporation, a key proponent of the SOMA IBZ designation. “Whether it’s condominium or rental, we’ll see. But right now, there is no mechanism in place to allow residential above manufacturing.”
Tanler, however, warned that mixed-use zoning should be placed where deemed appropriate and include regulations to ensure structures are not eventually fully converted into residential use. She noted that mixed-use zoning regulations placed in Long Island City failed to preserve industrial space, as property owners eventually converted them into more profitable residential uses.
Still, “it might make sense in areas feeling real estate pressure and experiencing illegal conversions,” she added.
Mixed-use zoning, in particular, presents a unique opportunity for Ridgewood, according to RLDC President Paul Kerzner. The organization is reportedly drafting a template for City Council Members Reynoso and Elizabeth Crowley on how to properly institute mixed zoning in manufacturing areas of their districts.
Kerzner said the template would depict a five-story condominium, with the first and second floors reserved for industry and the upper three floors as residential apartments.
Establishing industrial and residential condominiums in the mixed use district, he maintained, would be the most affordable way for companies and residents to remain in the city.
“The reason why manufacturers leave is because of rising rents, and it’s the same thing on the residential end,” Kerzner said. “People are getting pushed out by higher rents. … You make it a condominium so the industrial components in these buildings will be there for as long as they want to.”
Kerzner hopes the templates would be presented to the City Planning Commission in consideration of adopting mixeduse zoning.