Historic Districts Council
Green Zoning

HDC Looks Beyond The Building Envelope for the proposed Zone Green zoning text


On February 22, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider the citywide Zone Green zoning text amendments. As this proposal has the potential to affect all existing and new buildings within historic neighborhoods across the city, HDC carefully reviewed it and after study, testified in opposition.


HDC’s chief concern about this proposal is the potential loss of historic fabric in the many buildings and neighborhoods that should be preserved but are not protected by landmark designation or otherwise. We support sustainability and believe that the greenest building is the one that is already built. Existing historic buildings often have lower-carbon-cost climate control systems – such as operable windows and masonry walls – which, when properly maintained, lower the environmental costs of the building.


To look at “green” only from the perspective of zoning is not helpful to homeowners who want to do the right thing, but don’t know where to begin. It leaves them vulnerable to sales pitches for exterior-insulation-finish systems and photo-voltaic panels, when those products are unlikely to produce significant energy savings, yet are likely to have a great and negative visual impact on neighborhood character. The City of New York should instead be suggesting that they start with an energy audit, and begin with the lowest impact/ highest benefit projects (caulking, storm windows, attic insulation). There are also numerous traditional climate-mediating solutions which are both easier and more appropriate (i.e. awnings or planting trees and vines instead of sunscreens) that should be given precedence.

HDC is especially concerned that the provisions regarding retrofitting of existing buildings with external insulation creates the potential for massive alterations of building exteriors in a manner that could negatively alter the essential nature of such buildings in their neighborhood context. Applying exterior insulation is probably the MOST expensive and inefficient way to improve thermal performance. Imagine re-siding an ornate wood-clad Victorian home in a foam “fat suit” or examine how little positive energy impact coating the front and back facades of an attached rowhouse would be. This proposal does not seem to relate to the present built environment of the five boroughs and certainly pays no heed to the very real concerns which citizens have about the appearance of their neighborhoods.


For our full statement, see our website