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New health zone pondered

Brooklyn leaders know that while New Yorkers should be eating more fruits and vegetables, there are not enough grocery stores in many city neighborhoods.

The Department of City Planning (DCP) is trying to take a role in reducing the city’s high obesity and diabetes rates by passing a zoning amendment, known as the Fresh Foods Zoning Text, that would allow incentives for new and existing developments to house first-floor retail spaces that would provide fresh produce in underserved neighborhoods.

“We just started the public review process and referred the proposed fresh store initiative to community boards and borough presidents for comments,” said Jovanna Rizzo, a spokesperson for the DCP.

At a City Planning Commission hearing on August 5, Borough President Marty Markowitz made several recommendations to be added to the zoning amendment, including requiring new store operators to provide locally sourced produce, accept food stamps, hire a majority of its workers from the community it serves, and pay all its employees a living wage with health benefits.

“In order for all of Brooklyn to flourish, it is imperative that our residents have an adequate supply of supermarkets and grocery stores in their neighborhoods to access fresh and affordable foods,” said Markowitz.“It has been my ULURP policy to seek the inclusion of a supermarket as part of my discretionary land use review where deemed appropriate, as in the Shops at Gateway, Gateway Estate and Coney Island, to name a few.”

The zoning amendment mainly applies to first-floor retail spaces in new development sites, when building owners choose to include grocery stores in their projects and to grocery store operators looking to renovate their existing spaces through adding additional floor area and reduced parking requirements.Developers and operators will also be able to access energy efficiency benefits through these programs.According to DCP officials, the program would encourage developers to bring in grocery stores by offeringadditional floor area in mixed use buildings, reduces parking requirements and other financial incentives.

These proposed incentives would be applied in Brooklyn neighborhoods in Community Boards 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 16, and 17, which have particularly high needs for additional fresh food stores.In Community Boards 3 and 4 %u2013 North Central Brooklyn %u2013 residents died of diabetes at seven times the rate of those in neighborhoods where diabetes was the least prevalent, and were hospitalized 10 times more than those in upper Manhattan, according to data from the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.

Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Carl Hum agrees with Markowitz, writing in an email that the Chamber looked forward to work to encourage supermarket development in these areas.

“Providing access to healthy and fresh food in underserved areas of our borough is an important priority.The Food Retail Expansion to Support Health (FRESH) Zoning amendment is an creative idea to do just that.”

Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and a Park Slope resident, applauded the City Planning Commission for the initiative, while urging city officials to require stores to improve the quality of their produce in low-income neighborhoods.

“Part of this is getting more supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods while another part is encouraging existing supermarkets to bring in fresher food, not just produce but whole wheat bread and milk,” said Berg.

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