by Sarah Beling May 19, 2022

“The creation of space for consumers to see merchandise from the street, enter the store, and buy items in-person comes amid pressure from local city leadership to regulate what constitutes a proper store and what is a warehouse in disguise. Former Manhattan Borough President and current City Council Member Gale Brewer has led the charge against dark stores taking over significant city retail space.

Brewer’s team surveyed Manhattan’s micro-fulfillment center locations, visiting stores undercover as “customers” and creating a comprehensive map of centers where they were unable to purchase items in-person or enter the store. After reaching out to the city with their concerns over zoning violations, the Department of Buildings (DOB) responded with a proposed series of regulations that would delineate stores from micro-fulfilment centers and from warehouses, thereby limiting the areas in which each is allowed to operate.

“​​Last year, the Department received a letter from the Manhattan Borough President’s Office asking us to investigate whether several quick-service grocery fulfillment centers in Manhattan complied with local zoning and other applicable regulations,” said Andrew Rudansky, press secretary at the DOB. “These quick-service fulfillment centers are a new type of business in New York City, and not specifically mentioned in existing city zoning regulations. For the last several months we have been working with the Department of City Planning to explore the appropriate Zoning Districts for these types of establishments.”

In the proposed regulations — which were distributed to stakeholders earlier this month and are still in the process of being finalized — the DOB outlines three key delineations in zoning for retail centers. All three would be required to keep at least 50 percent of their storefront glass transparent, one of the major issues cited by Brewer team in reference to the centers’ effect on local commerce.”

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