Mayor de Blasio Celebrates Approval Of City Initiatives To Advance Health Equity

December 16, 2021

Mayor de Blasio celebrated the City Council’s approval yesterday of two zoning measures to improve health equity throughout New York City.

First, an update to the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program now provides a zoning incentive for high-quality grocery stores to more lower-income neighborhoods than ever before, increasing accessibility for healthy foods for New Yorkers.

The second, the Health and Fitness Text Amendment, removes outdated zoning barriers to opening gyms, spas and licensed massage therapy, helping these industries recover more quickly from the impacts of the pandemic.

“New Yorkers deserve better access to all the essentials and amenities that make our neighborhoods great places to live, work and play. That means making fresh foods and fitness facilities more available than ever,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “These zoning changes will make our city more livable, and they will make a major impact as we fight for a recovery for all of us.”

“Using our zoning and land use tools to create a healthier New York City is a critical part of a fair recovery. I’m delighted to see the passage of these two zoning actions that incentivize new grocery stores and remove barriers for health-related small businesses,” said Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development Vicki Been. “Thank you to the City Council and the partnership across City agencies that made these proposals a reality.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the necessity of health equity in New York City. Whether it’s improving access to high-quality foods, especially in underserved neighborhoods, or making it easier for health-related small businesses to open and thrive in our commercial corridors, the health of New Yorkers should be at the forefront of our work. Thanks to the City Council for approving these two zoning measures and setting us on the path to a healthier, happier city for all,” said Department of City Planning Director Anita Laremont.

The FRESH program began in 2009 to create zoning incentives for property owners in underserved communities to build slightly larger buildings in mixed residential and commercial districts if they included a FRESH supermarket.

Today’s expansion brings the zoning incentive to 11 additional lower-income Community Districts throughout the city, including Staten Island for the first time, on top of the 19 districts where it already applies. Each new FRESH store is also expected to create 30 to 100 local jobs.
With this approval, the FRESH program now applies to:
  • Bronx Community Districts 1 through 9
  • Brooklyn Community Districts 1 through 5, 8, 9, 12, 13, 16, 17
  • Manhattan Community Districts 9 through 12
  • Queens Community Districts 1, 3, 4, 12, 14
  • Staten Island Community District 1
The FRESH update also tweaks zoning rules to prevent counterproductive clustering of supermarket sites, as well as changes to renovation and parking requirements in lower-density districts to make it easier than ever for the stores to open.
The Health and Fitness Text Amendment has removed the need for special approval from the City’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) that is currently required to open a gym, spa, or licensed massage therapy studio – an expensive, time-consuming process that serves as a barrier for small and independent businesses. In a typical year, around 40 to 60 businesses had to go through the special permit process, which often took more than six months to be granted and cost businesses $30,000 to $50,000.
The text amendment also provides more flexibility for health-related businesses to locate in more areas across the city. Small gyms, like martial arts and boxing studios, and spas would be permitted along many commercial streets across the city where they are not currently allowed. Similarly, licensed massage therapy would be able to open in locations where other outpatient health care facilities are allowed, providing more options for these businesses.
These changes will help fitness facilities thrive again after being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, while also giving them more options to open in underserved communities outside of Manhattan.
“Food insecurity was a grave threat even before the pandemic, and far too many Queens families live in food deserts without adequate access to fresh produce, fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods they need,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “My office will continue to work in close partnership with the Department of City Planning to ensure the expansion of the FRESH program into historically underserved communities in Northwestern Queens and Far Rockaway will, in fact, lead to the construction of new, sorely needed supermarkets in these communities.”
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