The Comprehensive Waterfront Plan – Coming Soon to a Shoreline Near You

The Department of City Planning is currently in the process of updating the City’s Comprehensive Waterfront Plan, which was originally published in 1992.  Local law requires that this update, which City Planning has entitled “Vision 2020,” be completed by the end of the year.  The Waterfront Plan is not to be confused with City Planning’s update to its waterfront zoning, which occurred last year and focused primarily on the design of the open spaces required when a private waterfront property is developed.

We’ve previously discussed the varied character of the city’s waterfront – in some places public access is encouraged and in others, it’s forbidden – and the ways in which zoning regulations may be working against New Yorkers’ maximum enjoyment of the waterfront.  The new draft recommendations, released in September, acknowledge that the City’s waterfront should be both accessible and that it can still be an appropriate place for certain water-dependent, industrial type uses.   Goals include both the expansion of public access to the waterfront and waterways on public and private property and the support of “economic development activity on the working waterfront.”  The specific accessibility recommendations call for more public spaces on the waterfront as well as the consideration of fences around waterfront industrial uses that will facilitate public viewing of the waterfront in those areas.

The plan also has an environmental focus:  it recommends the restoration of degraded natural waterfronts and the protection of wetlands and shorefront habits.  The plan acknowledges that the environmental quality of our water bodies needs to be improved, and recommends the expansion of waterborne transportation and encourages the pursuit of strategies to increase the city’s resilience to climate change and sea-level rise (although, at this point, the plan offers little indication of what such strategies may be – about Ferry Point in the Bronx, the document says, “protect the shore of the park from erosion”).

It’s evident that the City continues to view maritime and industrial uses as an important element of its economy – the plan recommends the support of the expansion of container shipping, the consideration of easements and/or the long term lease of public property for maritime uses, and the exploration of new tax incentives for such uses.

Additionally, the plan divides the City into 22 “reaches,” or segments, and sets forth a series of site-specific recommendations for each area.  Some areas have more substantial recommendations than others – the waterfront on much of the west side of Manhattan, for example, is already very accessible due to the presence of Hudson River and Riverside Parks, so many of the recommendations there center around improving already existing public spaces.  Some areas, such as northern Queens received very few recommendations at all, while Brooklyn’s western shoreline received multiple specific recommendations.  The recommendations were developed with extensive community input, and community concerns are represented – for example, one of the goals for the South Bronx is to “balance needs of city’s waste management with those of the community.”   Several areas are targeted for additional industrial development, such as the east Bronx, Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and the west shore of Staten Island, while others area’s recommendations, such as those for Jamaica Bay and Rockaway, focus on preservation of the salt marshes, wetlands and other ecologically sensitive areas that exist in those places.

All in all, the Vision 2020 plan is quite extensive in its scope – both policy-wise and geographically.  It will be interesting to see how quickly the City moves to implement its suggestions.

Vision 2020:  NYC Comprehensive Waterfront Plan