Program to bring more grocery stores to underserved NYC areas expanding further

Supermarket trolley filled with vegetables in aisle
Photo via Getty Images

New York City officials are coming together to help bring underserved city communities access to much-needed food.

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. The partnership would aim to bring accessible grocery stores to underserved communities in New York City, an issue that was 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,” said Speaker Corey Johnson. “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.”

Originally created in 2009, the 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, while also allowing grocery stores as-of-right in light manufacturing districts, increasing the locations where they can be built. Since the program first began, 28 projects have been approved for FRESH zoning incentives — nine of these projects are currently open to the public.  

The 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 and Queens Community Districts 12. Under the new expansion, FRESH will now apply to Bronx Community Districts 8 and 9, Brooklyn Community Districts 1, 2, 12 and 13, Queens Community Districts 1, 3, 4 and 14, and Staten Island Community District 1 — the first Staten Island community to be included in the program.

“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. 

The DCP proposed new updates for FRESH, including adding specific criteria an applicant must follow to create a new FRESH store near an existing location to avoid clustering; allowing business owners to not have to replace walls with windows in existing buildings; and providing a waiver from parking requirements for sites using up to 10,000 square feet of retail area in lower density residential districts.

The Economic Development Corporation (EDC) offered many tax breaks for FRESH market operators and developers that have a FRESH store in their buildings. The expanded FRESH program will only be for the building increase through zoning, not the EDC tax incentive — the tax incentives are limited by the State statute based on data from the Census Bureau.

The FRESH update is targeted to enter public review later this year. 

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