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CB2 calls on Albany to lift density cap and allow office spaces to be converted into housing

New York State Capitol
Albany, New York State
U.S.A. (Photo via Getty Images)

March 20, 2023 By Michael Dorgan

Community Board 2 has called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would make it easier to convert commercial buildings to residential use and lift density restrictions in order to tackle the housing crisis.

The measures, if passed into law, would pave the way for vacant or unused commercial office space to be turned into apartments. The legislation would also increase the current cap on density for buildings, known as the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Cap.

Under current state law, new residential buildings in the city cannot exceed a floor area ratio of 12. For instance, a developer with a 10,000-square-foot parcel can construct a building 12 times as large as the lot, or 120,000 square feet.

The restriction-lifting measures, if passed into law, aim to increase the number of residential spaces throughout the borough. CB2 covers Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside.

The board wants the Legislature to include the changes in the upcoming state budget. Governor Hochul has already expressed her desire to support such proposals.

CB2 passed a resolution — 26-0 with four absentees — backing the measures on March 2 and then wrote to local state lawmakers outlining their position on March 3. A board resolution is only advisory, although it sends a strong message to Albany legislators of where it stands on particular issues.

The resolution also called on state lawmakers to provide a tax break to developers who include affordable housing units in the residential spaces they convert from office buildings.

The vote came after a housing advocacy group called “5 Borough Housing Movement” made a presentation to the board at its monthly meeting on March 2. The group advocated for the board to support the measures.

“CB2’s support drives home how the fact that neighborhoods across the city want the legislature to expand office conversions, lift the outdated FAR cap and incentivize affordability,” said John Sanchez, the executive director of the 5 Borough Housing Movement.

“Whether it’s Woodlawn or Woodside, these communities want Manhattan to do its fair share in creating affordable housing. We urge Albany to hear these communities and deliver real relief to our housing and affordability crisis.”

The CB2 vote comes after three other community boards in the Bronx passed similar resolutions, according to the 5 Borough Housing Movement. All five borough presidents, including Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, have called on Albany to pass these measures, according to the group.

State Sen. Addabbo, whose district includes Woodside, said more residential spaces need to be created in order to tackle the shortage of homes across the city.

Addabbo said that, in theory, he supports the conversion of commercial buildings to residential use – and tax incentives for doing so.

However, he said he has reservations about a complete lifting of density restrictions, noting that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution.

“Every community is different, and every neighborhood is different, and we cannot have these blanket rules,” Addabbo told the Queens Post/QNS.

Addabbo said he wants each community – via its community boards – to be able to have a say and be able to evaluate density rules.

“We need to utilize the community boards… and they are advisory but one of their main advisory roles is zoning so let them do their job. They are people of the community… so let’s work with the structure that already exists.”

“I don’t want to lose local control over zoning.”

Meanwhile, Tom Grech, the president, and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said he supports all of the measures voted on by Community Board 2.

“Queens has become a destination for New Yorkers, which is so exciting, but we need every borough to pitch in to fight the housing crisis,” Grech said.

“We need to lift the FAR cap and encourage affordability when offices become housing if we’re going to be successful in ending this crisis.”

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