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Op-Ed | Say yes to Yes City to unlock the economic potential of LIC

Photo provided by LICP

Laura Rothrock May 10, 2024

New York City has undergone significant changes since the 1960s, and this transformation is clearly visible in Long Island City (LIC). The area’s industrial areas are now complemented by a soaring skyline, and our historic streets and local commercial corridors now lead to the iconic waterfront.

This growth and change is reflected in the diverse range of local businesses in our area, which cover a wide range of sectors including retail, trade, manufacturing, film, life sciences and technology.

But the rules governing New York’s economy have not kept pace with the times. Zoning laws written in 1961 remain largely unchanged and become more anachronistic each year, which in turn has a serious impact on businesses in Long Island City and all municipalities. That’s why City Yes for Economic Opportunities, a proposal to update our spatial development plan for the 21st centurystreet century, it is very up to date.

To understand why City Yes for Economic Opportunity is so important, it helps to provide examples of outdated and downright bizarre zoning regulations that put our businesses in trouble. On a commercial street like Vernon Boulevard, you can bake bread, but you can’t make salsa. Zoning clearly regulates where telegraph offices can operate, but is silent on cell phone repair shops.

Some local small businesses, such as coffee roasters, are subject to the same zoning regulations that apply to large, polluting factories. And believe it or not, many pre-1961 storefronts cannot be reoccupied if they have been vacant for more than two years. The cumulative impact of such legislation cannot be overstated; this is a factor driving the elevated retail vacancy rates we are seeing here in Western Queens and along other retail corridors around the city.

City Yes for Economic Opportunity, a Department of City Planning proposal currently before the City Council, would replace these confusing regulations with clear rules that reflect the world we live in today. Local businesses would have the flexibility needed to expand and fill empty storefronts.

These changes would be particularly welcome in our Business Improvement District, which reflects the importance of vibrant shopping streets where community gathers and cultures converge to enrich our neighborhood.

But that’s not all: City Yes for Economic Opportunity would also strengthen New York’s industrial services base, a key part of our economy here in Long Island City. For example, many older buildings today are restricted by unnecessary loading dock requirements, which limits the number of possible industrial tenants. This plan would eliminate these requirements, greatly expanding the options available to fill their spaces.

Yes City would also introduce new land-use planning tools that will facilitate the development of modern, job-intensive loft buildings that can be adapted to the needs of many types of industrial enterprises. This means that more stores will be able to set up their company and get started without unnecessary bureaucracy. With these commonsense reforms, our industrial businesses can adapt to a changing economy and continue to be important centers of job creation, regardless of where our workers end up.

New York’s economy is constantly changing, and Long Island City is no different. If we want our diverse range of small and local businesses to continue to evolve and thrive in the future, we need to ensure that our zoning laws give them the flexibility to do so, rather than creating obstacles. We are calling on the City Council to say “yes” to a “City Yes to Economic Opportunity” and help create a more prosperous trajectory for our community and the entire city.

  • *Laura Rothrock is president of the Long Island City Partnership (LICP) and executive director of the Long Island City Business Improvement District (LIC BID), managed by LICP. From 2013 to 2022, Laura was a principal at Nicholas & Lence Communications, a government affairs and communications firm. She began her career with the New York City Department of Small Business Services as Executive Director of the BID Program, where she represented nearly 70 BID companies across the city and oversaw a $100 million contract management portfolio. Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Loyola University Maryland and a master’s degree in urban planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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