Maintain a Working Waterfront
Much of New York City's economic success was historically driven by industrial and maritime businesses that operated on the waterfront. To this day, New York City's working waterfront provides a significant number of well-paid jobs with low barriers to entry. Special zoning aims to maintain the working waterfront in New York City as intense real estate pressure threatens these places. Enforcement of these land uses has been not been robust, and has often relied on advocacy on the part of interested groups. There are three zoning designations for areas that the City has created to promote and protect the working waterfront: the Industrial Business Zone (IBZ), the Significant Maritime Industrial Area (SMIA), and the Priority Marine Activity Zone (PMAZ).
Check to see if a publicly owned waterfront property falls within one or more of these zones by looking at the maps below.
Make sure that new development is consistent with an existing Industrial Business Zone (IBZ)
Industrial Business Zones (IBZs) were created in the city to protect and promote industrial and manufacturing uses in designated areas where tax credits, business assistance and special planning efforts work to offset rising land costs. There are currently 21 IBZs, so check the maps showing IBZs to see if the waterfront property in question falls within one of the designated zones. If the lot is already in an IBZ, contact one of the city’s advocacy groups to plug into the citywide conversation about protecting the good, high-paying jobs that are located there, and that may not be able to move to another site in NYC. Reach out to groups that have actively fought to protect these uses along the waterfront.
Lots that are in existing IBZs are marked individually on the property pages on this site, too.
Create a new IBZ for your waterfront
If the City is proposing a non-industrial use on a publicly owned waterfront property located in a community that was historically or recently a working waterfront, consider advocating for an industrial use or the creation of a new Industrial Business Zone to protect the surrounding industry that remains. There are many working waterfront communities in New York City that are not designated IBZs, but could be, and are in need of protections to ensure that the jobs in these places are preserved. To learn how to advocate for the creation of a new IBZ, reach out to organizations that have fought to strengthen and improve these places along the waterfront. Get in touch with citywide advocacy groups already involved in protecting industrial spaces in the city to see if others are organizing.
State and federal coastal management laws authorize NYC's Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP), which establishes guidelines to balance the competing land use priorities along the waterfront. Any project or action that impacts the waterfront, including changes in land use or building that is not allowed under current zoning, must undergo review for consistency with the Waterfront Revitalization Program. Proposals for a change in use for a publicly owned waterfront site are subject to review for WRP compliance, providing an opportunity for advocates to shape the outcome. The City’s WRP has two designations recognizing the importance of industrial uses along the waterfront, described below.
Make sure that new development is consistent within an existing Significant Maritime Industrial Area (SMIA)
Significant Maritime and Industrial Areas (SMIAs) are intended to protect and encourage concentrated working waterfront uses, and are regulated by the NYC Waterfront Revitalization Program (WRP). Most SMIAs are located in environmental justice communities and in storm surge zones, making places that are already overburdened by contamination especially vulnerable to more pollution due to climate change. The New York City Environmental Justice Alliance (NYC-EJA), through its Waterfront Justice Project, has successfully campaigned to update local regulations to address community resiliency and climate adaptation in SMIAs, and continues to research ways to build climate resilient working waterfronts.
New York City is home to seven SMIAs that are especially valuable as industrial areas and working waterfronts, due to their location and site conditions. New York City recognized these clusters of water-dependent industrial employers in 1992, and while the City is tasked with evaluating whether a new development proposal is consistent with the established goals of the SMIA, enforcement is not guaranteed. These special areas are located in the South Bronx, Newtown Creek, Brooklyn Navy Yard, Red Hook Container Terminal, Sunset Park/Erie Basin, Kill Van Kull, and Staten Island West Shore. On the west shore of Staten Island, the City designated a SMIA that works in concert with the ecological needs of an environmentally sensitive area, indicating that industry and environmental quality need not be in conflict.The Arthur Kill Ecologically Sensitive Maritime Industrial Area (ESMIA) promotes industrial development in concert with preservation and enhancement of ecological resources.
Lots that are in existing SMIAs are marked individually on the property pages on this website, too.
Advocate for a new SMIA for your waterfront
Like with an IBZ, if the City is proposing a non-industrial use on a publicly owned waterfront property that falls within a cluster of water-dependent businesses located in a community that was historically or recently a working waterfront, consider advocating for a sustainable industrial use to remain or for the creation of a new Significant Maritime Industrial Area. There are many working waterfront communities in New York City that are not designated SMIAs, but could be, and are in need of protection because of the jobs that are sited there, and the fact that the businesses rely upon having a waterfront location. To learn how to advocate for the creation of a new SMIA, reach out to organizations that have fought to protect and improve these places along the waterfront.
Make sure that development is consistent an existing Priority Marine Activity Zone (PMAZ)
Priority Marine Activity Zones (PMAZs) are areas with concentrations of boating uses that support the city’s waterborne transportation and maritime activities. If new development is proposed for a publicly owned waterfront property located within a designated PMAZ, work with citywide advocacy groups that are active in preserving this type of access. In addition to the groups that have supported the preservation of industrial jobs along the waterfront, others have fought to bring transportation and other public infrastructure back to the water, including the Waterfront Alliance. Reach out to the Waterfront Alliance to see if others are organizing in the same community.
Create a new PMAZ for your waterfront
Like with the two zones described above, if the City is proposing a new use on a publicly owned waterfront property that is near other maritime uses, or sites that could be used for waterborne transportation use, consider advocating for the expansion or creation of a Priority Marine Activity Zone. As the City continues to expand ferry service and consider the expansion of maritime uses that might alleviate other overcrowded transit modes for people and goods, there may be an opportunity to expand or advocate for more PMAZs. Reach out to citywide organizations that advocate for these sites see if others are organizing in the same community.