COVID-19 exposed food insecurities throughout the five boroughs. Now, the city is hoping to change that.
On May 19, the City Planning Commission announced the start of public review for an update and expansion of the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program, to bring accessible grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods.
The FRESH program currently applies to Bronx Community Districts 1 through 7 and with this update will expand to Community Districts 8 and 9.
“I’m thrilled that FRESH is expanding its program to more neighborhoods across the city” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Chair of the Committee on Land Use. “At the heart of this program is the belief that a person’s zip code shouldn’t determine whether they can access healthy food, which is something I couldn’t support more. I’m proud many of my Council colleagues agree, and excited to keep fighting for programs like FRESH to improve the lives of New Yorkers.”
The FRESH update would also:
- Add specific rules an applicant must follow to create a new FRESH store near an existing location. Some communities have seen clustering of FRESH supermarkets, making it difficult for them to prosper. These new criteria would limit the potential for oversaturation.
- For renovations to an existing building to construct a FRESH supermarket, building owners will no longer have to replace existing walls with windows, removing a potentially expensive step in the process.
- Provide a waiver from parking requirements for sites using up to 10,000 square feet of retail area in lower density residential districts.
Since the program launched, 27 projects have been approved for FRESH zoning incentives, out of which eight are occupied as of February. Each new grocery store that opens is expected to generate between 30 and 100 jobs.
The FRESH update grew out of a 2018 DCP analysis, which showed that many neighborhoods remain underserved by high-quality grocery stores, emphasizing the need to expand and bolster the program. DCP also recently launched the Supermarket Needs Index, an interactive map that informs communities of nearby grocery stores and supermarkets and shows what neighborhoods remain underserved.
The launch of the seven-month public review process starts the clock for FRESH update. The proposal will go to all impacted Community Boards for the districts listed above for review, followed by the five borough presidents and borough boards. The FRESH update will then go to the City Planning Commission for a public hearing and vote, followed by the City Council.
“Expanding the FRESH zoning incentives will increase the number of grocery stores offering affordable and healthy food to those that have historically lacked access and will be key to the City’s recovery from COVID-19,” said NYCEDC President and CEO Rachel Loeb. “We congratulate DCP on the start of this process and look forward to expanding the FRESH
Created in 2009, this FRESH zoning incentive gives property owners the right to construct slightly larger buildings in mixed residential and commercial districts if they include a FRESH supermarket. It also allows grocery stores as-of-right in light manufacturing districts, increasing the locations where they can be built. In partnership with the City Council, DCP will expand the FRESH zoning incentive to 11 additional lower-income Community Districts throughout the City, including Staten Island for the first time, on top of the 19 districts where it already applies.