What Is Waterfront Zoning?

Written By Phil Ryan | October 19, 2011
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At Elegran, we have discussed the implications of residential, commercial, manufacturing, and mixed-use zoning on luxury real estate and development numerous times. A successful combination of these districts has created many a treasured New York City neighborhood replete with restaurants, shops, condos, rentals, and the other amenities so desired in Manhattan living. Recently, however, the New York Department of City Planning has instituted a new directive known as waterfront zoning, an innovative concept that will, in some ways, radically alter the structure of New York City and vastly improve its livability.

In essence, waterfront zoning is a set of restrictions that emphasize access to what will eventually be hundreds of miles of waterside parks, marinas, ferry terminals, and other aquatic activity. A recent development instituted in 1993, waterfront zoning is thoroughly integrated with numerous new developments, particularly in Brooklyn, but also, and perhaps mostly famously, with Battery Park City, whose Hudson River promenade is particularly acclaimed. Other well-known waterfront initiatives include East River Park; the Williamsburg Edge development, developed in conjunction with a massive mixed-use complex; and the Riverside South residential development on the Upper West Side.

At a more detailed level, waterfront zoning comprises a number of key components not seen in other types of zoning, such as visual components, connections, pedestrian circulation corridors, and planted areas, all of which are meticulously designed as to efficiently make use of limited, and usually narrow, waterfront land. On the other hand, waterfront zoning heavily borrows setbacks from traditional zoning, determining how far a building must be built away from a street or pedestrian walkway, usually depending on existing floor-area ratio (FAR) requirements or building heights. Finally, the use of upland corridors connects the street grid to new or even existing waterfront space, providing an aesthetically-pleasing bridge of sorts between the two by creating sightlines from inland areas to the water, often with spectacular views.

So why does waterfront zoning matter? Simply, New York City’s amble harbors and rivers are making a comeback, and having beautifully-landscaped and integrated parkland is a prized amenity in this densely developed city. In Manhattan in particular, waterfront parks provide necessary green space, reducing the need to trek to already-overcrowded places such as Central Park. For parents with young children, these spaces are of critical importance and provide in many ways an “urban backyard.” Waterfront redevelopment also encourages alternative transportation such as ferries, and when combined with outdoor facilities such as bike trails, the amount of activities only grows. For these reasons and more, waterfront zoning has made its mark on New York City’s riverside areas, and it is certainly a positive one.

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