NYC Zoning Handbook:
Residence Districts

Chapter 3

Residence districts are designated by the prefix R in the Zoning Resolution. There are ten standard residence districts in New York City -- R1 through R10. The numbers refer to the permitted density (R1 having the lowest density; R10 the highest) and certain other controls such as required parking. A second letter or number signifies additional controls in certain districts. Unless otherwise stated, the regulations for each of the ten residence districts pertain to all sub- categories within that district. The R4 district, for example, encompasses R4-1, R4A and R4B.

Standard Districts

R1 and R2 districts allow only detached single-family residences and certain community facilities. The R3-2 through R10 districts accept all types of dwelling units and community facilities and are distinguished by differing bulk and density, height and setback, parking, and lot coverage or open space requirements.

R3-2 districts permit detached and semi-detached houses, garden apartments, rowhouse developments and a broader range of community facilities. R4 and RS zones are primarily districts of rowhouses and small multiple dwellings. The R6 through R9 districts without a letter suffix (R8 rather than R8A, for example) encourage on-site open space and on-site parking. These objectives are addressed by a complex formula involving three variable controls: floor area ratio (FAR), height factor (HF), and open space ratio (OSR). The Zoning Resolution assigns a range of floor area ratios in these districts. The maximum floor area ratio in each district is reached for a building with a specific height factor in combination with a specific open space ratio often resulting in a tall, low-coverage building set back from the surrounding streets. Although there is no range of floor area ratios in R10 districts, the tower provisions and the 20 percent floor area bonus for plazas encourage high-rise, low- coverage buildings set back from the streets. This open space emphasis in R6 through R10 districts sometimes leads to the construction of buildings that are out-of-scale with the surrounding neighborhood, breaking the existing street wall continuity which characterizes many New York neighborhoods.

Contextual Districts

In 1984, 1987 and again in 1989, the Zoning Resolution was amended to establish a number of new and revised residential districts. These districts, generally identified with the suffix A, B. X or 1 (except R7), are termed contextual because they maintain the familiar built form and character of the existing community while providing appropriate development opportunities.

Lower Density Contextual Districts

In recent years, out-of-scale construction in low-rise neighborhoods had blurred the distinctions between residence districts. Sound one- and two-family houses were often demolished and replaced by larger, multifamily buildings. There was a need to determine regulations for appropriate new development in low-rise neighborhoods and to preserve existing housing. In 1989, New York City enacted the first comprehensive revision of lower-density zoning since 1961.

Lower density contextual zoning reaffirms the bulk distinctions, building configurations and narrower lot sizes of many older residential neighborhoods. By controlling curb cuts, it also provides more on-street parking and discourages excessive paving of front yards. It is applicable to low-rise neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.

Six new contextual residence districts were created (R2X, R3A, R4-1, R4A, R4B, R5B) to recognize the particular characteristics of detached and semi-detached residence and rowhouse neighborhoods. One existing residence district (R3- 1) was reconfigured as a contextual district and three other general residence districts (R3-2, R4, R5) were modified to incorporate elements of lower density contextual zoning.

New requirements were established to maintain the contextual cohesion of these new and amended districts. All usable living space, including most enclosed garage and attic space, must now be counted in floor area calculations. However, in R2X, R3, R4, R4-1 and R4A districts, a new attic allowance permits an increase in FAR for floor area under a pitched roof with headroom between five and eight feet. A new zoning envelope sets overall building heights for each district as well as a maximum perimeter wall height, above which pitched roofs or setbacks are required, to minimize the visual impact of new buildings on the street. Typically, R3, R4, R4-1 and R4A districts promote houses with pitched roofs while R4B and R5B zones are primarily rowhouse districts. Driveways that run parallel to the side lot line encourage traditional landscaped front yards and side yard parking in detached and semi-detached residence districts. Limitations on the width, number and location of curb cuts maximize on-street parking and lessen neighborhood parking problems. (For more detailed information, see Chapter 9.)

Medium and Higher Density Contextual Districts

A major emphasis of the 1961 Zoning Resolution was the construction of tall, slender buildings surrounded by large, open spaces. However, new residential development was often incompatible with the character and configuration of older neighborhoods. The cost and inefficiencies associated with construction of these buildings contributed to a slowdown in housing production. In 1984 and 1987, the Zoning Resolution was amended to establish a number of contextual districts in medium and higher density residential areas (R6A, R6B, R7A, R7B, R7X, R8A, R8B, R8X, R9A, R9X, R10A).

Medium and higher density contextual districts combine maximum lot coverage with a requirement that buildings be placed on or near the street line and attain at least a certain minimum height within the street wall setback distance. In addition, front and rear sky exposure planes control the overall height of the buildings. Instead of a range of floor area ratios to be used in combination with various height factors and open space ratios, each medium and higher density contextual district allows the maximum floor area ratio on a zoning lot irrespective of height factor or open space ratio. The interaction of the floor area ratio, lot coverage and street wall requirements results in lower, bulkier buildings closer to the sidewalk that are in keeping with the scale and character of the existing neighborhood and which maintain the traditional streetscape. Because the tower provisions and plaza bonuses available in R10 districts are not permitted in R10A districts, new residential development will be similar in style to buildings in older, built-up neighborhoods.

Contextual and non-contextual districts treat non-residential and community facility buildings differently. In non- contextual districts, residential, non-residential and community facility buildings are subject to different floor area ratios and other bulk regulations. In medium and higher density contextual districts, the space requirements of community facilities can be adequately accommodated and, therefore, residential and community facility buildings are generally subject to similar bulk regulations. However, in lower density contextual districts, bulk regulations for residential and community facility buildings usually differ because community facilities are typically larger than residential buildings.

Contextual districts also differ from most non-contextual districts in the way they control the density of residential development. In the non-contextual R6 through R10 districts, density is measured in zoning rooms. Each zoning lot is restricted to a maximum number of zoning rooms. This number is determined by dividing the area of the zoning lot by the minimum number of square feet of lot area required for each zoning room. The minimum square feet of lot area required for each zoning room varies from district to district it also depends upon the floor area ratio, height factor and open space ratio used in the development In the contextual districts, density is measured in dwelling units. There is only one lot area requirement in each of these zoning districts. Each zoning lot is restricted to a maximum number of dwelling units, a number arrived at by dividing the area of the zoning lot by the minimum number of square feet of lot area required per dwelling unit. This allows more flexibility in laying out the interior of the dwelling units.

Quality Housing

As part of the 1987 amendments to the Zoning Resolution, the medium and higher density contextual district bulk regulations were made optional in corresponding non- contextual districts, and the Quality Housing Program was established as a mandatory requirement for all residential buildings developed under the medium and higher density contextual bulk regulations. The purpose of these amendments is to encourage development of multifamily housing in a way that recognizes the relationship between building design and the quality of life in a dense urban environment.

Under contextual lot coverage, the maximum floor area may be reached in a building with fewer stories than would be permitted under non-contextual zoning. For example, in an R7 district, under standard zoning, the maximum FAR of 3.44 is achieved only in a 14-story building. A six-story building would have an FAR of 2.88. However, under the contextual regulations, a six-story building could reach the full 3.44 FAR. In addition, in R6, R7 and R8 districts, on wide streets outside the Manhattan Core, buildings developed under the Quality Housing Program may achieve slightly higher FARs.

The Quality Housing Program requires that all developments built under the medium and higher density contextual bulk regulations also comply with the four major elements of the Quality Housing Program: Neighborhood Impact, Recreation Space, Safety and Security, and Building Interior.

Neighborhood Impact is controlled primarily by the contextual bulk regulations outlined above, and by street tree planting and ground floor window requirements. Each of the other three program elements -- Recreation Space, Safety and Security, and Building Interior -- have several mandatory components and some of the components have a two-tier system of standards (minimum and preferred).

The Recreation Space element establishes minimum and preferred standards for the amount of equipped indoor and outdoor space, mandatory regulations for landscaping as a percentage of the open lot area, and on-site tree planting. If a development meets only the minimum standards for recreational space, instead of the preferred standard, it would have to meet the preferred level of compliance for the size of the average dwelling unit, a component of the Building Interior program.

Other Building Interior requirements include windows larger than those required by the Building Code, laundry facilities and trash storage.

The Safety and Security element includes minimum and preferred standards for the number of apartments per corridor. Other requirements include: building entrances visible from the street, and elevators and stairs visible from both the building entrance and individual apartments.

Other Zoning Districts

Certain historic parts of the city are designated with the letters LH to indicate a limited height district. These limited height districts ensure that the height of new buildings is in scale with existing buildings in the area.

R10-H allows transient hotels, by special permit, in addition to residential and community facility uses. This district is mapped primarily on Central Park South in Manhattan.

Zoning Analysis of a Typical Building in an R4-1 District

A builder planning the construction of two semi-detached houses owns two adjacent 25 by 100 foot interior zoning lots in an R4-1 district. (This analysis and all calculations will refer to a single building; both semi-detached houses will share a common zoning lot line and be mirror images of each other.) The maximum FAR for an R4-1 district is 0.75. However, the total applicable FAR will be 0.90 because the builder plans to utilize the attic allowance that permits an additional 20 percent of the 0.75 base FAR. Therefore, the floor area of the house could be 2,250 square feet (0.90 times 2,500). As permitted, in an R4-1 district, an additional 100 square feet will be added to the total floor area of the house because the required parking space will be in a detached accessory garage reached by a driveway running along the side lot line. The maximum total floor area of the building is 2,350 square feet.

There is no maximum lot coverage in an R4-1 district; the maximum building dimensions are determined by yard requirements. The rear yard must be at least 30 feet deep to provide adequate light, air and recreational space. The minimum depth of a front yard in an R4-1 zone is ten feet. If the front yards of the adjacent zoning lots are deeper than ten feet, the front yard of the new building must be at least as deep as one of the adjacent front yards in order to preserve a consistent building line along the street. (The front yard need not exceed 20 feet.) Since the shallower of the two adjacent yards is 12 feet in depth, the builder will utilize the minimum permitted front yard depth and provide a front yard that is also 12 feet deep. The required side yard for a semi-detached building in an R4-1 district is four feet; eight feet is required between buildings on adjacent zoning lots. The house on the adjacent zoning lot is a zero lot line building that abuts the side lot line. Therefore, the side yard of the new building must be a minimum of eight feet wide. On a 25 by 100 foot lot, the building footprint will be 986 square feet (58 times 17). There is no required open space ratio but at least 33 percent of the remaining open space on the zoning lot must be open and not used for driveways or open parking. The minimum width of the side yard driveway is eight feet. The garage at the rear end of the driveway will be 10 feet by 20 feet. Therefore, the square footage of the driveway is 640 square feet (8 times 80). When that is deducted from the 1,514 square feet of open space on the lot, the combined front and rear yards (inclusive of the garage) total 714 square feet which is 60 percent of the remaining open space on the zoning lot.

To be compatible with adjacent houses, the perimeter wall may be no higher than 25 feet. Above that, the building may reach a maximum height of 35 feet at the ridgeline of a peaked roof within the parameters of the building envelope.

Density in an R4-1 zone is controlled by a requirement that there be at least 970 square feet of lot area for each dwelling unit A 2,500 square foot lot permits a two-family house. A two-family, semi-detached house has minimum floor area requirements for each dwelling unit one must have a minimum of 925 square feet; the other must be at least 300 square feet. At least 75 percent of the floor area of one dwelling unit must be directly above or below the other dwelling unit In this case, the floor area of a first floor dwelling unit would be 986 square feet. In an R4-1 district, when the block is characterized by buildings with second story setbacks, the second story of the new dwelling must be set back to duplicate the configuration of the other houses on the street. Since the second story setback of the adjacent buildings is ten feet, the floor area of the second floor dwelling unit would be 816 square feet (48 times 17). The floor area of the second floor dwelling unit may be increased by adding floor area on the third floor, creating a duplex unit The amount of floor area on the third floor is determined by the dimensions of the building envelope but could be no more than 548 square feet. No more than two dwelling units are permitted in a house in an R4-1 district

The required parking ratio in an R4-1 district is one space for each dwelling unit. In this example, parking would be located within the garage on the rear lot line that is entered through the side yard driveway and on the driveway itself. This traditional pattern of many older neighborhoods alleviates the parking problems created by continuous curb cuts. The curb cut may be no more than ten feet wide and must be an extension of the side lot ribbon. There must be a minimum of 16 feet between curb cuts on adjacent zoning lots.

The resulting building, a two and one-half story, semi- detached house with a pitched roof on a 2,500 square foot lot, would cover almost 40 percent of the zoning lot and contain 2,350 square feet of floor area. It would have two dwelling units. At least one of the dwelling units would be on two floors. On-site parking would be provided for both dwelling units in the garage and within the side yard driveway.

In zoning terminology the building would be described in the following manner:

Lot area:2,500 square feet
Maximum permitted floor area ratio:0.75
Attic allowance:0.15
Total permitted floor area ratio:.90
Accessory garage floor area bonus:100 square feet
Resulting Floor Area:2,350 square feet
Minimum required rear yard:30 feet
Minimum required front yard:10 feet (12 feet provided)
Minimum required side yard:4 feet or 8 feet from adjacent building (8 feet provided)
Number of dwelling units permitted:2
Required number of parking spaces:2
Use:Use Group 2 (Use Group 2 comprises any type of residential development designed for permanent occupancy other than single-family detached residences)

Zoning Analysis of a Typical Building in an R6 District

A developer planning the construction of a six-story building owns a lot 200 by 100 feet in an R6 district. The maximum FAR for a six-story building in an R6 district is 2.14. Therefore, the building could have a maximum floor area of 42,800 square feet (2.14 times 20,000).

The floor area of a building is the sum of the gross area of all floors, excluding cellars (where more than half of the story is below curb level), and space used for mechanical equipment. Space used for an accessory garage located within the structure, but which is no higher than 23 feet above curb level, is also excluded from floor area calculations.

The amount of open space on the zoning lot can be computed when the floor area of the building is known. With an open space ratio of 30, an area equal to 30 percent of the total floor area of the building must be provided on the lot as open space. Open space, as defined in the Zoning Resolution, is that part of a zoning lot which must be open and unobstructed to the sky. It must be accessible to all residents of a building. (Under certain circumstances, roof area counts as open space and in certain districts need not be accessible to occupants.) Certain obstructions, such as unenclosed terraces and swimming pools, are permitted in open space and up to 50 percent of the required open space may be used for off-street parking. The required open space for this building would be approximately 12,840 square feet or 30 percent of 42,800, the allowed floor area. Approximately 64 percent of the lot would be open space.

In this example, the building must provide a 30-foot rear yard to ensure that adequate amounts of light and air reach the rear of the building and the adjoining property. No side yards or front yards are required in this district. However, the open space regulations are flexible and generous yards could be provided in front of or along the sides of the building, or the structure could be built at the front lot line with most of the open space at the rear.

The number of rooms allowed in the building is determined by the amount of lot area required for each room. A minimum lot area per room of 105 square feet is required in an R6 district for a building with the open space ratio of 30. Therefore, a building erected on this 20,000-square-foot lot would be allowed 190 rooms.

These 190 rooms could be used for approximately 50 dwelling units of various sizes (from one to three or more bedrooms). For zoning purposes, a studio apartment counts as 2-l/2 rooms, a one-bedroom apartment counts as 3-1/2 rooms, and a two-bedroom apartment counts as 4-1/2 rooms.

The parking requirement for this building is 70 percent of the number of dwelling units. Therefore, 35 parking spaces are required. About 18 parking spaces could be provided in the form of open parking on the zoning lot within the 50 percent of open space that may be devoted to parking. The remaining 17 parking spaces would have to be provided in a garage in the basement of the building.

The resulting building, a six-story structure on a 20,000- square-foot lot, would cover nearly 36 percent of the lot and would contain 42,800 square feet in floor space. It would have 50 apartments (a likely breakdown would be 20 two- bedroom units, 25 one-bedroom units and five studio apartments) with 35 parking spaces.

In zoning terminology the building would be described in the following manner

Lot area:20,000 square feet
Maximum permitted floor area ratio:2.14
Resulting Floor Area:42,800 square feet
Required Open Space Ratio:30 feet
Required Open Space:12,840 square feet
Required rear yard:30 feet
Required front yard:None
Required side yard:None
Number of rooms permitted:190
Number of dwelling units:50
Required number of parking spaces:35
Use:Use Group 2 (Use Group 2 comprises any type of residential development designed for permanent occupancy other than single-family detached residences)

Zoning Analysis of a Typical Building in an R6A District

A developer planning to construct a six-story residential building owns a 200 by 100 foot interior lot on a wide street in an R6A district. The maximum FAR in the district is 3.0. Therefore, the building could have a maximum floor area of 60,000 square feet (3.0 times 20,000).

In an R6A district the front sky exposure plane begins 60 feet above the level of the street line and rises at a 1 to 1 ratio. The rear sky exposure plane, which also rises at a 1 to 1 ratio, begins 20 feet above the level of a line 100 feet back from the street. Thus, a building may rise to 60 feet at the front line. In the rear, a 60-foot-deep building may rise 60 feet without a setback. These height and setback requirements would permit construction of the desired six- story building.

In an R6A district the required minimum lot area per dwelling unit is 227 feet. Therefore, the building may have a maximum of 88 apartments (20,000 divided by 227). However, because the developer must use the Quality Housing Program in an R6A district, the maximum number of apartments in this building may be affected by two other factors: the average dwelling unit size must be at least 575 net square feet, in which case the developer must provide the preferred standard of recreation space (see below), or the developer may choose to provide the preferred average dwelling unit size of 750 net square feet, in which case the developer may comply with the minimum standard of recreation space.

In this example, the developer seeks to maximize the number of dwelling units, but the marketing strategy dictates that 20 percent of the units will be studios with 450 net square feet, 50 percent one-bedroom units with 625 net square feet, and 30 percent two-bedroom units with 825 net square feet. Although the developer will not provide 750 square feet per apartment, he will provide more than the minimum required, 575 square feet. The net square feet of a dwelling unit is comprised of all the floor area within the perimeter walls of the apartment. Therefore, all mechanical equipment spaces, the apartment's perimeter walls, recreation and laundry rooms, stairs, elevators, corridors and lobbies, are not counted toward the net floor area of an apartment. In general, only about 85 percent of the gross floor area of a building is inside the apartments. In this illustration, about 51,000 square feet will be available for the apartments (60,000 x .85). Given the apartment distribution and size noted above, the building will have 78 dwelling units, averaging 648 net square feet. The total net residential floor area will be 50,550 square feet.

The rest of the Quality Housing Program requirements (excluding the planting area) will be calculated on the basis of 78 dwelling units and a total net residential floor area of 50,550 square feet. These requirements include:

  1. Trash collection and storage area in cellar:
  2. 2.9 cubic feet per DU x 78 = 226 cubic feet required

  3. Recycling and trash disposal room on each floor:
  4. 12 square feet required
    Total area required: 72 square feet*
    *Discounted from floor area calculations.

  5. Laundry room(s):
  6. Required machines:
    1 washer per 20 DUs = 4 machines
    1 dryer per 40 DUs = 2 machines
    Total = 6 machines required for 78 DUs

    Minimum size laundry room required:
    6 machines x 7.5 sq. ft. per machine = 45 square feet
    45 sq. ft. x 3 = 135 square feet
    Total area required = 180 square feet*
    * Discounted from floor an a calculations.

  7. Recreation space: Preferred standard
  8. Child use (indoor or outdoor)
      2% x 50,550 = 1,011 square feet
    Joint use (indoor)
      1% x 50,550 = 506 square feet
    Joint use (outdoor)
      3% x 50,550 = 1,517 square feet
    Total indoor* = 506 square feet provided
    Total outdoor = 2,528 square feet (1,011 + 1,517) provided

  9. Required parking:
  10. 50 percent of 78 dwelling units or 39 spaces

    The 39 parking spaces will require 15,600 square
    feet (400 square feet of space per vehicle).** This
    space will be provided by excavating most of the
    site and placing the cars in the cellar of the
    building and below a portion of the rear yard.

** Estimated gross floor area of a self-park space in a cellar garage.

The required planting area will be located in front of the building if the building is set back from the street, and in the rear yard above the below-grade garage. Up to 30 percent of the required planting area may be developed as outdoor recreation space; in this case it will be located above the below-grade garage at the rear of the building. The Quality Housing Program requires developers to plant one tree for every 2,000 square feet of lot area in R6A districts, yielding 10 on-site trees in this development. In addition, one street tree must be planted in the sidewalk for every 25 feet of lot frontage, resulting in eight trees along the street.

In zoning terminology the building would be described in the following manner:

Lot area:20,000 square feet
Maximum permitted floor area ratio:3.0
Maximum permitted lot coverage:65% (50.6% actually covered)
Required rear yard:30 feet (35 feet provided)
Required front yard:None (5 feet provided)
Required side yard:None (31 feet provided)
Lot area per dwelling unit:227 square feet
Number of dwelling units:88 (78 provided)
Required number of parking spaces:39
Required outdoor recreation area:2,528 square feet
Required planting area:Required planting area front setback area plus 50% of area in side and rear yards


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