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Emerald City
New York City planning passes green zoning initiative.
The new green zoning code would allow this design by PERKINS+WILL for the BUILDINGS=ENERGY exhibition showing INTEGRATED PHOTOVOLTAICS to become a reality.

On Wednesday City Planning passed the Zone Green initiative and sent it off to City Council and the mayor for likely approval. The new zoning was in response to recent developments in design and building technologies that help reduce energy consumption, but which were rarely applied due to zoning restrictions. Building owners will now be able to install a green roof, add solar panels, and sunshading without a punitive reduction of the floor area ratio. “This is reading what we’ve seen people design into buildings,” said Howard Slatkin, the director of sustainability for City Planning.

In looking at screens, like those used on Renzo Piano’s New York Times building, and sun shades, like those used at Grimshaw/Dattner’s Via Verde, the staff at planning developed text that would allow architects to take additive measures to help reduce solar gain and light glare, and in turn lessen the building’s energy load. Screens will be permitted provided they don’t cover more than 30 percent of the façade and sun shades and awnings will be allowed to go two feet beyond the street wall.

The Perkins+Will design incorporates protruding reflective panels at the top of each window to bounce light back into the building. New York's new green zoning code takes these current design advancements into consideration.

Up on the roof there is new leeway as well. An additional three feet above the height limit will be added for green roofs, so that floor-to-floor height changes won’t be necessary. Greenhouses will be permitted on non-residential buildings for educational purposes and food production. Here again, planning was responding to new demands coming from the market. Slatkin cited Gotham Greens as an example. Gotham’s produce is grown on industrial rooftops in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and they reduce fossil fuel consumption by shipping locally. The green houses will be required to capture rainwater. Likewise, decks for rooftop access will be encouraged when combined with storm water retentions systems to create blue roofs.

Solar panels will be permitted to go onto the roofs with options that range from four feet for the standard flat rooftop, and 18 inches for a pitched roof. On walls they may project no more than 10 inches and not occupy more than 20 percent of the surface. Solar panels will also be permitted atop trellis-like posts in commercial districts from six to 14 feet high, provided they are not visible from the street.

A thin-film solar roof blends with a historic district.
Courtesy RegenEn Solar

The director believes that there’s potential for the solar initiatives to make the biggest impact, particularly in the outer boroughs like Staten Island, where low energy use will give homeowners substantial savings, if not profits. Tax incentives should offset the initial investment. Also, Con Edison allows for net metering, where owners car resell surplus energy back to the grid.

While they were up on the roof, so to speak, Planning also worked in additional language to update the code for bulkheads and new mechanical equipment that didn’t exist years ago, like window washing systems. Other changes will allow up to eight inches of building recladding for insulation purposes, so that owners won’t be penalized for improving the energy efficiency of their buildings.

Tom Stoelker