Program seeks to cover more NYC neighborhoods and make it easier to build and retain stores that provide fresh foods and a full range of grocery products
NEW YORK – City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Department of City Planning (DCP) Director Marisa Lago today announced a partnership to update and expand the Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) program, to bring convenient, accessible grocery stores to underserved neighborhoods and New Yorkers – a need further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Access to fresh, healthy food is a priority for me and for this Council, and the expansion of the FRESH zoning incentive is a major step forward in our fight to ensure all New Yorkers can eat healthy no matter where they live. Far too many neighborhoods in our city lack access to affordable, healthy food options. The Council is glad the Department of City Planning is moving forward with this important zoning change and we look forward to working with communities as they review this proposal. We will continue working to ensure every neighborhood in our city has access to fresh food at reasonable prices,” said Speaker Corey Johnson.
“By expanding FRESH, we take a step towards addressing a long-standing inequity that the pandemic has laid bare – neighborhoods that do not have convenient access to healthy foods for their families. Putting high-quality food on the table and within reach of low-income New Yorkers is a top priority. Our families and communities deserve nothing less,” said DCP Director Marisa Lago.
“Within minority communities, the lack of healthy food options has led to many of the health disparities we’ve seen in the city; increased obesity rates, the prevalence of underlying health conditions and shorter life expectancy. As a member of the #Not62 campaign, I am passionate about improving accessibility to fresh and healthy food options, whether it’s working with bodega owners to place fresh fruits and vegetables near cash registers or being the lead sponsor of the Health Bucks program in the City Council. The expansion of the FRESH program, which incentivizes the development of supermarkets in exchange for zoning bonuses, is another step in the right direction. I am pleased these benefits will now extend to Community Board 9 in my district under today’s announcement. I applaud the leadership of the New York City Council, Council Land Use and the Department of City Planning for recognizing how zoning can be used to enhance the quality of life in our communities,” said Council Member Rafael Salamanca, Chair of the Committee on Land Use.
“Expanding the FRESH zoning incentive is a step in the right direction to truly have a City that prioritizes vulnerable New Yorkers. Health encompasses all aspects of our recovery especially among those most impacted by COVID-19, which means having increased access to stores and avenues that offer affordable fresh food is paramount. I look forward to our continued work with City Planning in increasing more of these actions for the betterment of our communities,” said Council Member Francisco Moya, Chair of Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises.
Created in 2009, DCP’s FRESH program uses a zoning incentive to give property owners the right to construct slightly larger buildings in mixed residential and commercial districts if they included 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 (LINK to high-res map) 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.
The FRESH program currently applies to:
Bronx Community Districts 1 through 7
Brooklyn Community Districts 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 16 and 17
Manhattan Community Districts 9 through 12
Queens Community Districts 12
With this update, the FRESH program will be expanded to:
Bronx Community Districts 8 and 9
Brooklyn Community Districts 1, 2, 12 and 13
Queens Community Districts 1, 3, 4 and 14
Staten Island Community District 1
DCP’s proposed updates to FRESH would also:
- Add specific criteria 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
“As part of a collaborative process, DCP has been working with the Food Industry Alliance on updating the FRESH program so that more New Yorkers can access a wide assortment of fresh, affordable foods. We appreciate the department’s outreach and hard work and look forward to continuing this important effort to provide healthier choices to New Yorkers,” said Jay Peltz, General Counsel and Senior Vice President of Government Relations, Food Industry Alliance of New York State.
“City Planning’s proposal to expand FRESH to 11 additional neighborhoods is an important step towards ensuring that affordable supermarkets selling healthy fresh food are within easy reach of every New Yorker,” said Nevin Cohen, Ph.D., Associate Professor, CUNY School of Public Health, and Research Director, CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute.
“Food Bazaar Supermarket has proudly worked with New York City’s FRESH program on numerous projects to provide healthy and fresh food options to underserved inner city neighborhoods. The incentives provided through the FRESH program made these projects possible,” said Edward K. Suh, Executive Vice President of Bogopa Service Corp. “We are excited about NYC Dept of City Planning’s proposal to further expand the FRESH program into more communities so that a greater number of our residents have better access to healthy and fresh food options.”
Since the program launched, 28 projects have been approved for FRESH zoning incentives, out of which nine are currently open to the public.
Separately, the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) offers a variety of tax breaks for both for FRESH supermarket operators and developers that provide a FRESH store in their buildings. Twenty-two supermarkets have been approved for FRESH tax incentives – creating over 1,000 new jobs and representing an investment of $100 million into the City’s economy. The tax incentives also kept other FRESH stores open and in business, retaining more than 600 jobs.
DCP’s proposed FRESH expansion is only for the building increase through zoning, not the EDC tax incentive, as eligibility for the latter is limited by State statute based on income and employment data from the Census Bureau.
FRESH is being expanded because a 2018 DCP analysis 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 supermarket – and shows what neighborhoods remain underserved.
The FRESH update is targeted to enter public review later this year.