Zoning text and maps
Zoning laws consist of two parts:
- TEXT spells out specific regulations for each zoning district (R1, R3-2, C1, etc.)
- MAPS show where each district applies
The text and maps are available on line at the Department of City Planning web site, www.nyc.gov/planning. (In the blue area at the right of their home page, click on zoning, then choose either zoning text or zoning maps.)
Zoning shapes how the city looks and functions
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 in lower Manhattan and new technologies allowed taller buildings that blocked the light and air of their neighbors. Rather than a hodgepodge of incompatible uses, the new zoning encouraged development that was in line with existing development. Today, the City’s zoning manages a complex, fine-grained landscape ranging from skyscrapers to suburban neighborhoods, within an equally complex set of community and city-wide needs.
How does zoning work?
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, commercial, or industrial (R, C, or M (manufacturing) districts).
They lay out formulas for determining the allowable heights and sizes of buildings, the required space between buildings, and how much parking is required. They set out minimum lot sizes, the number of housing units that may be built per acre, and how much open space must be retained.
Zoning articulates a vision
The zoning that is applied to an area reflects the values and preferences of residents and leaders for the direction of development in their neighborhood, their borough, and their city. 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 they what we expect?
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. 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, just to stay within allowable ranges.
As community character becomes established, residents may forget about or be unaware of the unused development potential. When a lot is then fully built out, it can be a discordant element in the design of the neighborhood.
It is in response to these situations that the city created many of its contextual zoning districts and has approved many recent rezonings.
Contextual districts increase the focus on neighborhood characteristics
Certain zoning districts are called contextual districts, because they aim to guide the appearance of 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 of zoning: the Departments of City Planning and Buildings
TO REPORT SUSPECTED VIOLATIONS OF ZONING REGULATIONS, CALL 311. BE PREPARED TO PROVIDE THE ADDRESS OR BLOCK AND LOT OF THE PROPERTY IN QUESTION.
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 web site.
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.