In Next American City, Aaron Barker discusses the failure of NYC’s massive rezoning in the highly transit-dependent black and immigrant neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens:
One of the centerpieces of [NYC’s] initiative to house an expected 1 million new arrivals in the coming decades was the Jamaica Plan. Covering 365 square blocks surrounding a major rail hub in Queens, it was the largest rezone in the city’s history, projected to bring 9,600 jobs and 3 million square feet of new commercial space to the area.
Even though it’s been over three years since the resolution passed, almost none of the expected 5,100 units of new residential construction have materialized. In fact, the only real activity has been at MODA, a 350 unit, mixed-income rental complex that opened this summer.
He then poses the question: “Can redevelopment on a meaningful scale really only occur in already sought-after areas?”
While it’s true that Jamaica did undergo a tremendous upzoning, there was one element missing: Minimum parking requirement reform. From what I can tell from NYC’s zoning maps and code (which are notoriously difficult to understand), there was barely any let-up at all in the Special Downtown Jamaica District (zoning district “DJ”), despite the NY Metro Chapter of the American Planning Association asking the city planners to eliminate the minimums (.pdf). Streetsblog actually wrote about this tendency to upzone without lifting parking minimums a year ago.
Now, I don’t have any specific knowledge of Jamaica – I’ve only actually been to Queens once. But based on this study that we featured a few weeks ago, developers in NYC in general (and actually the study focuses on sites in Queens) only build as much parking as the zoning code mandates, implying that it is a binding constraint on development. So before we declare that zoning isn’t enough to revitalize poor neighborhoods, let’s actually make sure that we’ve done all we can to alleviate the zoning burden on developers. This may have been the biggest rezoning in the city’s recent history, but given how strict the rules were to begin with, maybe it wasn’t enough.