Friday, April 24, 2009

Here Come the Supermarkets?

According to the Obsever's Real Estate blog, the Department of City Planning is about to certify its zoning proposal that is designed to make it easier to site supermarkets in the city-particularly in low income neighborhoods: "Let there be supermarkets. City Planning Director Amanda Burden said Wednesday night that a zoning plan to encourage new grocery stores is just a few weeks away, with her agency planning to certify its proposal and kick off a seven-month public approval process. “We are going to be certifying this month,” she said, speaking at NYU’s Wagner School for its Henry Hart Rice lecture."

How effective the plan will be remains to be seen-and we have posted some reservations a while back. As we said at the time: "Richard Lipsky...said the draft policies were a “good step,” but do not go far enough to counter the forces that are continually shuttering grocery stores citywide. “The more compelling policy issue is the disappearance of existing stores,” he said. He also urged the city to prioritize grocery store uses when selling off city-owned land, which was one of the Planning Department’s own recommendations last fall."

Keep in mind that incentivizing new store construction, without also subsidizing existing markets, can exacerbate the trend of supermarket disappearance but creating an even more unlevel playing field. But the fact that DCP recognizes the problem, and is looking for solutions is a positive step: "The rationale: market failure. The city considers grocery stores to be beneficial to neighborhoods, but, especially in low-income neighborhoods, the numbers haven’t been working for supermarkets, leading to store closures and a lack of food options for residents.
“Hundreds of supermarkets have closed all over the city,” she said. “They cannot compete with Rite Aid and Duane Reade, and this is not only terrible for economic development, but it’s terrible for the health of our city.”

So now the proposed zoning change will be sent to the city council where its pluses and minuses will be thoroughly analyzed and debated. As always, the devil will be in the details. But enough negativity; at least the folks at City Planning is putting their heads together and getting proactive.