Zoning in New York City
Zoning shapes the city. Zoning determines the size and use of buildings, where they are located and, in large measure, the densities of the city’s diverse neighborhoods. Along with the city's power to budget, tax, and condemn property, zoning is a key tool for carrying out planning policy. New York City has been a pioneer in the field of zoning policy since it enacted the nation's first comprehensive Zoning Resolution in 1916.
This glossary provides brief explanations of planning and zoning terminology. Words and phrases followed by an asterisk (*) are defined terms in the Zoning Resolution of the City of New York, primarily in Section 12-10. Consult the Zoning Resolution for the official and legally binding definitions of these words and phrases.
An as-of-right development complies with all applicable zoning regulations and does not require any discretionary action by the City Planning Commission or Board of Standards and Appeals.
Attached Building* (see Building)
The height of a building is measured from the curb level or base plane to the roof of the building (except for permitted obstructions).
A building segment is a portion of a building with its own entrance. For example, a row of attached townhouses on a single zoning lot is one building, but each townhouse is a building segment.
Bulk regulations are the combination of controls (lot size, floor area ratio, lot coverage, open space, yards, height and setback) that determine the maximum size and placement of a building on a zoning lot.
A bulkhead is a roof-top portion of a building that may include mechanical equipment, water tanks, and roof access from interior stairwells. It is not counted as floor area and is permitted to exceed zoning height and setback requirements, within limits specified in the Zoning Resolution.
Bulkhead Line (see Waterfront Area)
A cellar is a level of a building that has more than one-half of its floor-to-ceiling height below curb level or the base plane. By contrast, a basement has less than one-half of its floor-to-ceiling height below curb level or the base plane.
A certification is a non-discretionary action taken by the City Planning Commission, or its Chair, informing the Department of Buildings that an as-of-right development has complied with specific conditions set forth in accordance with provisions of the Zoning Resolution.
The term also applies to a step in the ULURP process indicating that an application is complete and ready to begin formal public review.
City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR)
Pursuant to state law, the City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR) process identifies and assesses the potential environmental impacts of discretionary actions, except for minor exemptions, that are proposed in New York City by public or private applicants and funded or approved by a city agency. A discretionary action, such as a zoning map amendment, cannot begin public review until a “conditional negative declaration” or “negative declaration” has been issued, stating that no significant environmental impacts have been identified or, if any potential impacts have been identified, a draft environmental impact statement has been completed, evaluating the significance of identified impacts and proposing appropriate mitigation.
A letter “E” on a zoning map indicates a site where environmental requirements must be satisfied before a building permit may be issued for any development, enlargement or change of use.
The City Map is a collection of maps that show legal streets, grades, parks and other public places. It is the official map of New York City and is the base for the zoning maps in the Zoning Resolution.
City Planning Commission (CPC)
The City Planning Commission, established in 1936, is a 13-member panel that meets regularly to hold public hearings and vote on applications related to the use and improvement of land subject to city regulation. The Mayor appoints the Chair, who is also Director of the Department of City Planning, and six other members; each Borough President appoints one member and one member is appointed by the Public Advocate. The Department of City Planning provides technical support for the work of the Commission.
A commercial building is any building occupied only by commercial uses as listed in Use Groups 5 through 16.
A commercial district, designated by the letter C (C1-2, C3, C4-7, for example), is a zoning district in which commercial uses are allowed and residential uses may also be permitted.
Unless otherwise specified on the zoning maps, the depth of C1 overlay districts, measured from the nearest street, is 200 feet for C1-1 districts, 150 feet for C1-2 and C1-3 districts, and 100 feet for C1-4 and C1-5 districts. For C2 overlay districts, the depth of C2-1, C2-2 and C2-3 districts is 150 feet and 100 feet for C2-4 and C2-5 districts. When mapped on the long dimension of a block, commercial overlays extend to the midpoint of that block.
A commercial use is any retail, service or office use listed in Use Groups 5 through 16.
Community Facility Building*
A community facility building is any building occupied only by a community facility use.
Community Facility Use*
A community facility use provides educational, recreational, religious, health or other essential services for the community it serves. Use Groups 3 and 4 are classified as community facility uses.
Contextual zoning districts regulate the height and bulk of new buildings, their setback from the street line, and their width along the street frontage, to produce buildings that are consistent with existing neighborhood character. Medium- and higher-density residential and commercial districts with an A, B, D or X suffix are contextual districts.
A conversion is a change of a building’s use to another use for which it was not originally intended.
A court is any open area, other than a yard or a portion of a yard, which is unobstructed from its lowest level to the sky, and is bounded by building walls, or building walls and one or more lot lines.
Curb level is the mean level of the curb adjoining a zoning lot. In general, it is the base from which building height and setback computations are made and building stories counted in medium- and higher-density non-contextual districts and manufacturing districts.
Detached Building* (see Building)
A development includes the construction of a new building or other structure on a zoning lot, the relocation of an existing building to another lot, or the use of a tract of land for a new use.
Development rights generally refer to the maximum amount of floor area permissible on a zoning lot. The difference between the maximum permitted floor area and actual floor area is referred to as “unused development rights.” Unused development rights are often described as air rights.
A discretionary action requires the review and approval of the City Planning Commission or the Board of Standards and Appeals. Zoning amendments, special permits, authorizations and variances are discretionary actions.
A dwelling unit (d.u.) consists of one or more rooms that contain lawful cooking and sanitary facilities, inhabited by one or more persons living together and maintaining a common household, in a residential building or residential portion of a building.
The floor area of a building is the sum of the gross area of each floor of the building, excluding mechanical space, cellar space, floor space in open balconies, elevators or stair bulkheads and, in most zoning districts, floor space used for accessory parking that is located less than 23 feet above curb level.
Front Yard* (see Yard)
Group Parking Facility*
A group parking facility is a building or lot used for parking more than one vehicle.
The height factor of a building is equal to the total floor area of the building divided by its lot coverage (in square feet). The height factor is equal to the number of stories in a building without setbacks.
Height Factor Building
A height factor building is a residential development whose bulk is determined by a range of height factors, floor area ratios and open space ratios, and is set within a sky exposure plane. Height factor regulations promote development of tall buildings surrounded by open space.
A home occupation is a business operated by the occupant(s) of a home, which is accessory to the residential use. It is generally restricted to no more than 25 percent of the residential floor area (with a cap of 500 square feet). Specific occupations that may generate excessive noise, odors or pedestrian traffic are not permitted.
Inclusionary Housing Program
The Inclusionary Housing Program permits an increase in the floor area of residential developments in exchange for the provision of below-market-rate housing (known as affordable housing) for low-, moderate- and middle-income households. The program is available in R10 and R10-equivalent commercial districts and other designated medium- and high-density districts, such as portions of Greenpoint-Williamsburg in Brooklyn. More information...
Infill zoning permits multifamily housing on blocks entirely within R4 or R5 districts in predominantly built-up areas. Infill housing has higher floor area ratios and lower parking requirements than would otherwise be applicable in the zoning district.
Joint Living-Work Quarters for Artists*
Joint living-work quarters for artists are spaces in nonresidential buildings used for living quarters and studio workshops by artists and their households.
Large Scale Development
A large-scale development is a development generally involving several zoning lots planned as a unit. Special regulations allow for flexibility, particularly in the distribution of floor area without regard to lot lines, in order to achieve a superior site plan.
A limited height district is superimposed on an area designated as an historic district by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. It is mapped in areas of the Upper East Side, Gramercy Park, Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill. The maximum building height is 50 feet in a LH-1 district, 60 feet in a LH-1A district, 70 feet in a LH-2 district and 100 feet in a LH-3 district.
A loft is a building or space within a building designed for commercial or manufacturing use, generally constructed prior to 1930. In certain manufacturing districts, lofts may be converted to residential use by CPC special permit.
Lot or Zoning Lot*
A lot or zoning lot is a tract of land comprising a single tax lot or two or more adjacent tax lots within a block. An apartment building on a single zoning lot, for example, may contain separate condominium units, each occupying its own tax lot. Similarly, a building containing a row of townhouses may occupy several separate tax lots within a single zoning lot, or two or more detached homes on one zoning lot may each have its own tax lot.
The zoning lot is the base unit for zoning regulations and may be subdivided into two or more zoning lots, and two or more adjoining zoning lots on the same block may be merged, provided that all resulting zoning lots comply with applicable regulations.
Lot area is the area (in square feet) of a zoning lot.
Lot coverage is that portion of a zoning lot which, when viewed from above, is covered by a building.
Lot depth is the mean horizontal distance between the front lot line and rear lot line of a zoning lot.
Lot Line or Zoning Lot Line*
A lot line or a zoning lot line is a boundary of a zoning lot.
Lot width is the mean horizontal distance between the side lot lines of a zoning lot.
Lower Density Growth Management Area*
A Lower Density Growth Management Area is an area designated in the Zoning Resolution where new developments must provide more off-street parking, larger yards and more open space than would otherwise be required in the applicable zoning districts. The areas designated are generally distant from mass transit and characterized by rapid growth and high auto ownership.
The Manhattan Core extends from the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park to West 110th Street on the West Side and East 96th Street on the East Side. It is the area covered by Manhattan Community Districts 1 through 8.
A manufacturing district, designated by the letter M (M1-1, M2-2, for example), is a zoning district in which manufacturing and most commercial uses are permitted. New residential development is not allowed.
A manufacturing use is any use listed in Use Group 17 or 18.
A mixed building is a building in a commercial district used partly for residential use and partly for community facility or commercial use. A building that contains any combination of uses is often referred to as a mixed-use building. When a building contains more than one use, the maximum FAR permitted on the zoning lot is the highest FAR allowed for any of the uses, provided that the FAR for each use does not exceed the maximum FAR permitted for that use. In a C1-8A district, for example, where the maximum commercial FAR is 2.0 and the maximum residential FAR is 7.52, the total permitted FAR for a mixed residential/commercial building would be 7.52, of which no more than 2.0 FAR may be applied to the commercial space.
Mixed Use District*
A mixed use district is a special zoning district in which new residential and non-residential (commercial, community facility and light industrial) uses are permitted as-of-right. In these districts, designated on zoning maps as MX with a numerical suffix, an M1 district is paired with an R3 through R9 district.
Narrow Street* (see Street)
Non-complying or Non-compliance*
A non-complying building is any building that was legal when it was built but which no longer complies with one or more of the bulk regulations of the applicable zoning district. The degree of non-compliance cannot be increased.
Non-compliance results when a building does not comply with any one of the applicable bulk regulations. (See Article V, Chapter 4, of the Zoning Resolution for regulations governing non-complying buildings.)
Non-conforming or Non-conformity*
A non-conforming use is any use that was legal at its inception but which no longer conforms to one or more of the use regulations of the applicable zoning district. The degree of non-conformance cannot be increased.
Non-conformity results when a use does not conform to any one of the applicable use regulations. (See Article V, Chapters 2 and 3, of the Zoning Resolution for regulations governing non-conforming uses.)
Open space is the part of a residential zoning lot (which may include courts or yards) that is open and unobstructed from its lowest level to the sky, except for specific permitted obstructions, and accessible to and usable by all persons occupying dwelling units on the zoning lot. Depending upon the district, the amount of required open space is determined by the open space ratio, minimum yard regulations or by maximum lot coverage.
Open Space Ratio (OSR)*
The open space ratio (OSR) is the amount of open space (in square feet) required on a residential zoning lot in non-contextual districts, expressed as a percentage of the total floor area on the zoning lot. For example, if a building with 20,000 square feet of floor area has an OSR of 20, 4,000 square feet of open space would be required on the zoning lot (0.20 × 20,000).
An overlay district is a district superimposed upon another district which supersedes, modifies or supplements the underlying regulations. Limited height districts and commercial overlay districts are examples of overlay districts.
A performance standard is a minimum requirement or maximum allowable limit on noise, vibration, smoke, odor and other effects of industrial uses listed in Use Groups 17 and 18.
A perimeter wall is the outermost wall of a building in a lower-density district which encloses floor area and rises from the base plane to a specified maximum height.
A permitted obstruction is a structure or object, such as a balcony, trellis, air conditioner, gutter or fence, that may be located within required open space or yards on a zoning lot, as specified in the Zoning Resolution. Certain structures on a roof, such as elevator bulkheads, water towers or parapets no higher than four feet, are permitted obstructions and allowed to penetrate a height limit, setback area or sky exposure plane.
Pierhead Line (see Waterfront Area)
A plaza is an open area adjacent to a building and accessible to the public. It must generally be at the level of the sidewalk it adjoins and be unobstructed to the sky except for seating and other permitted obstructions. In certain high-density zoning districts, a floor area bonus is available for provision of a residential or urban plaza.
A predominantly built-up area is a block entirely within R4 or R5 districts (without a suffix) in which optional regulations may be used to produce infill housing. At least 50 percent of the area of the block must be occupied by zoning lots developed with buildings, and the development site may not exceed 1.5 acres. Infill regulations may not be used to redevelop a lot occupied by a one- or two-family detached or semi-detached house unless the blockfront is predominantly developed with attached or multifamily housing.
A private road is a right-of-way that gives vehicular access to a number of dwelling units that do not front on a public street. Developments on private roads must comply with special design rules.
Privately-owned Public Space
A privately owned public space is an amenity provided and maintained by a developer for public use, usually in exchange for additional floor area. Located mainly in the high-density, central business districts of Manhattan, these spaces are typically in the form of a plaza or arcade with seating and landscaping and may be located within or outside a building.
A public park is any publicly owned park, playground, beach, parkway, or roadway within the jurisdiction and control of the Commissioner of Parks, except for park strips or malls in a street.
Public Parking Garage*
A public parking garage is a building or part of a building that is used on a daily basis for public parking. A public parking garage may include some accessory off-street parking spaces for other uses on the same zoning lot.
Public Parking Lot*
A public parking lot is a tract of land that is used on a daily basis for public parking and is not accessory to a use on the same or another zoning lot.
Quality Housing Program
The Quality Housing Program, mandatory in contextual R6 through R10 residence districts and optional in noncontextual districts, encourages development consistent with the character of many established neighborhoods. Its bulk regulations set height limits and allow high lot coverage buildings that are set at or near the street line. Quality Housing buildings must also have amenities relating to the planting of trees, landscaping and recreation space.
Railroad or Transit Air Space*
Railroad or transit air space is space directly over an open railroad or transit right-of-way or yard in existence on or after September 27, 1962. Development may be permitted only by special permit.
Rear Yard* (see Yard)
A residence is a building or part of a building containing dwelling units, including one-family and two-family houses, multifamily dwellings or apartment hotels.
A sidewalk cafe is a portion of an eating or drinking place that is located on a public sidewalk. Sidewalk cafe regulations are administered by the Department of Consumer Affairs.
A sign is any writing—words, pictures or symbols—that is on or attached to a building or other structure.
A tall building or enlargement on a lot that is 45 feet wide or less, in an R7-2, R7X, R8, R9 or R10 district, is commonly called a sliver building. A new building is generally restricted to a height equal to the width of the abutting street or 100 feet, whichever is less.
A special permit is a discretionary action by the City Planning Commission (CPC) or the Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) which may modify use, bulk or parking regulations if certain conditions and findings specified in the Zoning Resolution are met. Applications for special permits under CPC jurisdiction, which generally address use or bulk modifications with potential for greater land use impacts than those reviewed by the BSA, are subject to the ULURP review process.
A split lot is a zoning lot located in two or more zoning districts. In most cases, the zoning regulations for each district must be applied separately for each portion of the lot. Special rules that apply to zoning lots which existed prior to 1961, or prior to any mapping of a new district that splits the lot, can be found in Article VII, Chapter 7, of the Zoning Resolution.
A story is that part of a building between the surface of one floor and the ceiling immediately above. A cellar does not count as a story.
A street is any road (other than a private road), highway, parkway, avenue, alley or other way shown on the City Map, or a way at least 50 feet wide and intended for public use which connects a way shown on the City Map to another such way or to a building or structure. A street refers to the entire public right-of-way (including public sidewalks).
A street wall is a wall or portion of a wall of a building facing a street.
A tax lot is a parcel of land identified with a unique borough, block and lot number for property tax purposes. A zoning lot comprises one or more adjacent tax lots within a block.
A tower is a portion of a building that penetrates a sky exposure plane or other height limitation, and is allowed only in specified high-density areas of the city. A tower may be occupied by residential, commercial or community facility uses.
Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP)
The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) is the public review process, mandated by the City Charter, for all proposed zoning map amendments, special permits and other actions such as site selections and acquisitions for city capital projects and disposition of city property. The procedure sets forth time frames and other requirements for public participation at the community board, borough board and borough president levels, and for the public hearings and determinations of the community boards and City Planning Commission (CPC). Zoning text amendments follow a similar review process, but without a time limit for CPC review. (For a full explanation of ULURP, including a diagram of the ULURP time clock, see Land Use Review Procedure)
A use is any activity, occupation, business or operation, listed in Use Groups 1 through 18, which is conducted in a building or on a tract of land. Certain uses are allowed only by special permit of the CPC or BSA.
Uses that have similar functional characteristics and/or nuisance impacts and are generally compatible with each other are listed in one or more of 18 groups that are ranked from residential uses (Use Groups 1–2), community facility uses (Use Groups 3–4), retail and service uses (Use Groups 5–9), regional commercial centers/amusement uses (Use Groups 10–12), waterfront/recreation uses (Use Groups 13–15), heavy automotive uses (Use Group 16) to manufacturing uses (Use Groups 17–18). Use group charts can be found in Chapter 2 of Articles II, III and IV of the Zoning Resolution.
A variance is a discretionary action by the Board of Standards and Appeals which grants relief from the use and bulk provisions of the Zoning Resolution to the extent necessary to permit a reasonable or practical use of the land. A variance may be granted, after a public hearing, when unique conditions on a specific parcel of land would cause the property owner practical difficulty and undue hardship if it were developed pursuant to applicable provisions.
Waterfront Access Plan (WAP)
A waterfront access plan (WAP) is a specific plan, set forth in the Zoning Resolution, that tailors waterfront bulk regulations and public access requirements to the specific conditions of a particular waterfront. Development of individual waterfront parcels governed by the plan triggers a requirement to build and maintain public access areas in accordance with the WAP.
A waterfront area is the geographical area comprising all blocks between the pierhead line and a line 800 feet landward from the shoreline. Where the line intersects a block, the entire block is included in the waterfront area.
Window, Legally Required*
Legally required windows are mandated in dwelling units to provide necessary light, air and ventilation. A window in a building wall that is set on a side lot line is not a legally required window.
A yard is a required open area along the lot lines of a zoning lot which must be unobstructed from the lowest level to the sky, except for certain permitted obstructions. Yard regulations ensure light and air between structures.
A zoning district is a mapped residential, commercial or manufacturing district with similar use, bulk and density regulations.
Zoning Lot* (see Lot)
Zoning Lot Merger (see Development Rights)
The 126 New York City zoning maps indicate the location and boundaries of zoning districts and are part of the Zoning Resolution. Each map covers a land area of approximately 8,000 feet (north/south) by 12,500 feet (east/west). Mapping amendments are subject to the ULURP review process.
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