New Zoning Approved for North Avenue

North Avenue has benefited in recent years from significant investment in its public streetscape (the third phase of which is currently underway), but private commercial investment has lagged and contributes in many locations to a distressed appearance and lack of economic vitality.

To address this challenge, the City Council voted last night to adopt new zoning standards for the North Avenue corridor, from Eastchester Road to the Memorial Highway overpass. Our vote concludes a years-long process of study, discussion and public comment.

The most significant changes are: (1) an increase in the maximum height of buildings, which will now be set at three stories or forty feet; and (2) an increase in the maximum floor-area-ratio, newly set at 2.0, up from the previous 0.5. There are, of course, many other details, which you can read here.

The new zoning standards aim to enhance the value and marketability of land on the corridor by expanding the range of investment and development possibilities. It should be noted that the original planning analysis presented to the City Council recommended a more dramatic change, including building height of up to twelve stories in certain limited circumstances. These original recommendations, however, received a largely negative reaction from the community, with many arguing that the burdens of such density would outweigh any benefits. The final iteration of the zoning represents a sort of lowest common denominator with which most interested parties were comfortable. Whether it is, in fact, sufficient to accomplish the objective of economic renewal can only be discovered with time.

Incidentally, the stretch of North Avenue from the Memorial overpass to Burling Lane was dropped from this change, because its existing DB (Downtown Business) zone already permits more flexibility than that allowed in the new NA (North Avenue) zone. There may be opportunities to reexamine this portion of North Avenue in conjunction with a broader look at transit-oriented growth and development.

The vote of the Council was 6 to 1 in favor, with Council Member Roxie Stowe dissenting. Council Member Stowe did not object to the new zoning standards per se, but rather to the remapping of a several parcels on Fifth Avenue, immediately to the east of North Avenue.

Public Hearing on November 9th for North Avenue Zoning

The condition of the North Avenue corridor is important to the health of our city as a whole. North Avenue is a major commercial artery, the gateway to multiple neighborhoods and institutions, and a principal carrier of commuters, shoppers and travelers. Unfortunately, for decades North Avenue suffered from neglect and under-investment.

Several years ago, the City commenced a multi-faceted effort to enhance North Avenue’s appearance and function. Most notable have been the well-received streetscape projects near Iona and City Hall (with additional federally-funded work planned this fall to extend the new streetscape south to Lockwood.)

As an essential complement to this public investment, the City has also worked to devise new zoning standards that might better stimulate privately-funded rehabilitation and construction. The fruits of this effort, devised with input from multiple neighborhood meetings and achieved after lengthy Council debates, will be the subject of a public hearing on Tuesday, November 9th at 7:30pm.

In a nutshell, the new zoning would permit a modest increase in allowable size, with a proposed maximum height of three stories or forty feet and a maximum floor-area-ratio of 2.0. The Council elected not to proceed with a more ambitious zoning framework that might have permitted additional height in certain circumstances, opting instead for standards that met with broad public approval and only limited opposition.

The hope and intent of these changes is that greater flexibility in use and design will enhance the value of North Avenue properties and create new incentives for reinvestment. It will take some time to determine whether these relatively modest changes are sufficient to accomplish the intended purpose.

You can read the proposed zoning in its entirety here.