The proposal, pitched by the Department of City Planning, is intended to limit the rapidly-growing trend of self-storage buildings in areas where more job-intensive industrial businesses can be created.
“The unregulated development of self-storage detracts from the city’s long-term goals for Industrial Business Zone (IBZ) areas,” said Tom Smith from City Planning. “These uses tend to be very low in generating new jobs. You can have a very large facility but a very small staff because all you have to do is have someone let people in and out.”
According to Smith, both Maspeth and Ridgewood IBZs are within Community Board 5. The IBZ program was created to offer tax incentives and services such as job training for industrial businesses that set up within the designated boundaries.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also created an “industrial action plan” in IBZs to increase employment and innovation.
“The major principal there is that they want to protect industrial neighborhoods and incentivize developments,” Smith said. “Align city services to help industrial businesses start, grow and thrive.”
Since IBZs were implemented, industrial sector employment has actually increased in the zones since 2010. Overall, 68 percent of industrial jobs are within IBZs, Smith said. Industry jobs include wholesale trade, transportation, traditional warehousing, manufacturing and construction.
In the Ridgewood IBZ, for example, city officials have seen an uptick in production in the area, such as new knitting mills.
However, in the Maspeth IBZ, Smith said the dominant use is for wholesale and production. A lot of food comes through the area, but mostly for distribution and packaging.
To encourage more industrial businesses, especially production, to stay in IBZs, city officials want fewer self-storage facilities opening up within IBZs, Smith said.
“They tend to occupy large sites along truck routes and highways,” Smith said about self-storage facilities. “These are the sites you want to most market to actual production or manufacturing uses because they have the most viability. These are sites along the truck routes that could’ve been used for more productive uses.”
Within Queens, there are 63 self-storage facilities, 25 of which are within IBZs. Another 26 sites are in manufacturing districts, he said.
In Community Board 5, there are five self-storage buildings, three of which are in IBZs.
City Planning’s proposal would create a special permit process for self-storage facilities that want to open in IBZs. They would be permitted on sites that are “not appropriate” for industrial uses based on lot sizes, configuration, proximity to truck routes, local street capacity and need for environmental remediation.
Existing self-storage facilities in IBZs would be allowed to stay. They can also expand, as long as they stay within their zoning lot.
According to Smith, the “special permit process” would undergo a full Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), which means it will go through the community board, borough president, City Council and City Planning Commission.
“During that process, the project could be modified and would be fully vetted by the community, Smith said. “It gives you all a much greater say in where these uses could be located and whether or not you think they’re appropriate for the site if they meet those conditions.”
The board approved the proposal by a vote of 36-0.
At last Wednesday’s meeting, the board also discussed a proposal to open a new NYPD warehouse at 55-15 Grand Avenue in Maspeth. The site would house evidence the NYPD has collected.
Robert Martinez, deputy commissioner of the NYPD’s support services bureau, said the Maspeth property is currently home to a cardboard manufacturing company that has recently decided to relocate.
“We happened to find a great location here,” Martinez said. “This new facility will be a state-of-the-art facility.”
Martinez said the typical item that gets stored in the facility is “bigger than what would fit normally on a shelf.” The facility is needed because two other warehouses, one in Greenpoint and another in Red Hook, were flooded during Superstorm Sandy.
According to Martinez, 6,000 barrels of biological evidence, 1,000 cars, 700 motorcycles and 4,000 bicycles got wet during the storm.
He said the new facility, if approved, will be “operating almost like Amazon” with a lot of new technology.
“This facility will be a facility that other police departments around the world are going to come and look at,” he said. “It’ll give us a big edge in storing and maintaining biological evidence.”
A portion of the building will be repurposed, Martinez said, while other parts will be knocked down and rebuilt.
Martinez added that the facility “shouldn’t impact the neighborhood in any real way.” There will be a bit of truck traffic, he said, but it will mostly be vans and small trucks, not tractor-trailers.
“We’re not a trucking company,” he said.
According to Nina Kotter, director of leasing for the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, the city began with 13 possible sites. The top three sites were all in Queens.
The other two possible sites were fully leased, which meant the city would’ve needed to buy out the tenants, an expensive endeavor.
“This facility at Grand Avenue didn’t just meet most of the criteria, but also was the most economical,” Kotter said.
The board’s Land Use Committee will now study the project further before making a recommendation.