Environmental Law


Pursuant to the New York City Zoning Resolution, before opening a physical culture or health establishment (“PCE”), a special permit is required from the Board of Standards and Appeals (“BSA”).  A PCE includes a health club, gym, or any other business offering physical exercise, massage or use of steam rooms and saunas.  The City has made a change to the environmental review process for special permit applications for PCEs by eliminating the need for the environmental review for PCEs under 20,000 gross square feet. This will save many PCE special permit applicants time and money.

An application to the BSA for a special permit constitutes an application for discretionary approval and is therefore subject to the City Environmental Quality Review (“CEQR”) process.  Generally, CEQR requires that City agencies examine the environmental impact of an action before granting discretionary approvals.   

Under CEQR (and also under State Environmental Quality Review Act (“SEQRA”) outside of New York City), proposed actions are categorized as either Type I, Type II, or Unlisted.  The City maintains its own list of Type I and Type II actions. PCEs had been categorized as Unlisted – meaning that they were neither specifically listed as an action likely to have an adverse environmental impact (“Type I”), nor were they categorically found not to have an adverse impact on the environment and explicitly exempt from environmental review (“Type II”). As an Unlisted action, PCE applications for a special use permit required the applicant to submit a detailed Environmental Assessment Statement (“EAS”) to the BSA for review as well as pay a CEQR application fee.

The City reviewed an extensive history of prior special permit applications for PCEs and determined that PCEs of up to 20,000 gross square feet, rarely, if ever, resulted in a finding of significant environmental impact.  Accordingly, the City has added PCEs to its list of Type II actions. It did not make sense for the BSA to require the submission of an EAS and the payment of a CEQR application fee if the BSA always found that there was no adverse impact on the environment. The City is drawing a line based upon the size of the PCE, and has determined that PCEs above 20,000 gross square feet should be subject to environmental review since they may result in adverse environmental impacts.  Since most PCEs fall below 20,000 gross square feet in size, this change will save most PCE special permit applicants time and money by eliminating the need for the preparation of the EAS and the BSA’s environmental review, as well as the payment of the CEQR fee.

For more information on the CEQR process or on the filing of special permit applications to the New York City BSA, please contact Dan Braff or Jason Kaplan.

Posted by Miriam Villani