New York City has adopted a number of measures to promote green streetscapes in residential neighborhoods throughout the city in order to foster the sustainability goals of the PlaNYC 2030 initiative. Zoning regulations control planting elements, such as front yard planting, street trees and planting strips to improve the appearance of local streetscapes, benefit the environment by increasing the amount of landscaped open space and permeable surfaces and, generally, improve the quality of life.
The front yard planting regulations are applicable to new buildings in R1 through R5 districts. To ensure an equitable and proportionate distribution of planted areas, minimum standards for the amount of plantings and the dimensions for planted areas are based on the width of the zoning lot.
The minimum percentage of planted area in the front yard ranges from 20 percent for narrow lots to 50 percent for wide lots. A planted area within a driveway or parking space doesn’t qualify towards the minimum planting requirements. On corner lots and through lots, the minimum amount of planting has to be met on each street frontage. For multiple buildings on a single zoning lot, the minimum planting requirement is based on the street frontage allocated to each building.
The minimum width of a planting bed must be at least 12 inches to ensure that these planted areas have a visual impact on the street, are sustainable and are easily maintained over the long term. The planted areas can be a combination of grass, groundcover, shrubs, trees or other living plant material.
Planting regulations also apply to medium- and high-density contextual R6 through R10 districts and where the optional Quality Housing Program is utilized in R6 through R10 districts. When buildings are set back from the street in these zoning districts, the entire area in the front of the building must be planted, except for the entrances/exits to the building or driveways.
The street tree planting requirements increase the street tree canopy, improve air quality and foster storm water management. Street tree regulations apply in all zoning districts to developments, major enlargements where the floor area on the zoning lot is increased by 20 percent or more, and conversions of 20 percent or more of the floor area of a non-residential building to residential uses. The requirements are not applicable to industrial uses in Use Groups 17 and 18.
One street tree is required for every 25 feet of street frontage of the zoning lot; fractions equal to or greater than .50 are rounded up. Semi-industrial and automotive uses listed in Use Group 16 are allowed to exclude the width of curb cuts from the calculations, thereby reducing the number of required street trees. The standards for street tree planting are set by the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR). The site owner is responsible for planting the required street trees and DPR is responsible for maintenance. Existing street trees along the street frontage can count towards the requirement.
Where certain site constraints preclude street tree planting, for example at locations where street tree planting would be infeasible due to conflicts with infrastructure, street trees can be planted in an alternate off-site location, selected by DPR, which must be within the community district or within one-half mile of the development site. If DPR cannot select a suitable location for a tree, DPR can waive the street tree requirement.
Planting strips are generally required between the sidewalk and the curb in lower density R1 through R5 districts. Sidewalk planting strips benefit the environment by capturing storm water and reducing strain on sewer infrastructure. Planting strips also improve the appearance and character of a neighborhood and soften the hard appearance of otherwise continuous pavement.