Below are some helpful resources for property owners in the Riverdale area, and for community members interested in understanding local regulations as they apply to neighborhood development. The information provided here is intended for educational purposes only. For specific up-to-date guidance, contact the appropriate city agency or seek the advice of a professional licensed in the area of your inquiry.
Zoning Text and Maps:
Zoning laws consist of two parts:
Zoning text provides detailed information on what kinds of construction and land use are permitted in each type of zoning district. For example, R-1 zoning district designation permits single family detached homes, while R-10 permits a skyscraper. Other designations permit commercial use, and manufacturing. More
Zoning Maps show the location of zoning districts, allowing identification of which regulations apply to specific properties.
Zoning- Shaping the Aesthetic and Function of NYC
The shape and function of New York City is guided by zoning. The first zoning laws in New York City were adopted in 1916. The new regulations brought stability and predictability to the Manhattan real estate market, where commercial and manufacturing development was surging into established residential neighborhoods. The noise, traffic, scents and debris associated with commercial and manufacturing use of properties were incompatible with residential life. New technology which allowed construction of taller buildings was being implemented in lower Manhattan, without regard to how the new construction deprived neighboring properties access to light and air.
Zoning would put a halt to the emerging hodgepodge of incompatible uses. Development would be permitted in consideration of the existing land use. Community needs would dictate the presence of commercial space near residences, while manufacturing and commercial properties would be provided zones in which to operate without regularly facing the aggravation of the neighbors. Today, the City’s zoning manages a complex, fine-grained landscape ranging from skyscrapers to suburban neighborhoods, with the goal of permitting development in support of meeting the unique needs of each local community.
How Zoning Works
Zoning districts define land use, building height and bulk, population density, parking requirements, open space, and other physical aspects of development. Each zoning district defines a particular set of parameters. Zoning districts define land uses according to whether they are residential (R), commercial (C), or manufacturing (M) districts. How many families can live on each property? How much space will exist between properties? How tall can my neighbor build that new addition? Can a party venue open across the street from my home? Or a factory? Zoning regulations provide answers to these questions, and many others, with the goal of minimizing conflicting uses of property.
Zoning Articulates a Vision
The zoning that is applied to an area reflects community values and preferences. How do we want our neighborhood, borough, and city to develop going into the future? As conditions and needs change, zoning must be revisited. Publications such as the Mayor’s Strategic Policy Statement for the City, the Bronx Borough President’s Strategic Policy Statement for The Bronx, and the New York City Waterfront Revitalization Program periodically reexamine needs, policies and strategies. The City or community may then propose zoning changes to reflect evolving conditions.
Old Zoning, New Buildings- Are the Local Zoning Regulations What We Expect?
Zoning regulations define maximums, such as in building height and floor area, and minimums, such as in lot size and yard size. Development is not required to build to the limits, it simply must stay within allowable ranges. At times, individual lots or whole neighborhoods are not built out to the maximum building size or type allowed by zoning. For example, zoning may allow garden apartments and two family homes, but a neighborhood may develop with single-family homes instead.
As community character becomes established, residents may forget about or be unaware of the unused development potential. When a lot is then built out to the limits permitted by zoning, it can be a discordant element in the design of the neighborhood. In response to these situations that the city created many of its contextual zoning districts and can approve rezoning.
Contextual Districts: Increasing Focus on Neighborhood Characteristics
Contextual districts aim to guide new development so that it fits into the visual context of the existing neighborhood. To do this, contextual districts require that new development include specific design elements, such as, for example, peaked roofs where they are common.
Review, Approval, and Enforcement: The Role of Departments of City Planning and Buildings in Zoning Regulation
Zoning districts are designed and mapped by the Department of City Planning (DCP). Creation of a new zoning district, revisions of existing zoning text, or changes to the zoning map require review by community boards, the borough president, and the city planning commission, with ultimate approval by the city council.
Enforcement of the zoning code is the responsibility of the Department of Buildings (DOB). In most cases, the DOB reviews projects for compliance with zoning (as well as compliance with the building code and construction regulations) and approves the project “as of right”, meaning that no review by City Planning is necessary. Application for a building permit is made directly to the DOB. In some cases, zoning districts require review and approval by the DCP before the DOB can issue a building permit. Application is made to the DCP for a certification, authorization, or special permit, depending on the nature of the work. For more information on these applications, see the Department of City Planning website. Once a project is complete, the Department of Buildings inspects the work to be sure it complies with the approved plans, and ultimately issues a Certificate of Occupancy.
Community members who suspect a property is in violation of zoning regulations can call 311 to report the observation to New York City. When calling, be prepared to provide an address, or the block and lot number, of the property. Once a report is made to 311, community members can additionally inform Bronx Community Board 8 of the issue for follow-up, though this is not required. Email Community Board 8 Bronx at BX08@cb.nyc.gov.
Zoning in Riverdale
New York City adopted its first zoning regulations in 1916. Many parts of the city – including Riverdale – were zoned for high-density development, even though they were sparsely populated at the time. Change came slowly to Riverdale until after World War II, when the Henry Hudson Bridge opened and a wave of apartment houses began to make their way north along the Henry Hudson Parkway. Community activists quickly organized and developed a vision of Riverdale’s future that balanced growth and preservation. In late 1953, the NYC Department of City Planning won approval for zoning changes that would implement the community’s vision.
In the new scheme, the apartment houses would follow the top of the ridge along Riverdale Avenue. They would be balanced by a wide ribbon of single-family, detached homes and the existing institutions on the slopes between the ridge and the River. There would be a gradual transition from single-family to high rise areas, and commercial development would be concentrated in areas where the traffic it generated would not infringe on residential streets.
The planning effort was so comprehensive that the resulting zoning changes still define large parts of Riverdale today.
Land Use Plan Today
In 2003, the City Council approved Community Board 8’s newest land use plan: CD 8 2000: A River to Reservoir Preservation Strategy. The plan looked at current needs in the District, and made it clear that preservation of neighborhood character is an overriding concern. Thirteen areas were recommended for rezoning.
Current Zoning in CD 8
The tables below list the zoning districts that are currently mapped in Bronx CD 8. Actual regulations are much more extensive; the tables only gives a broad idea of the types of development envisioned for each zoning district.