NYC Zoning Handbook:
Commercial Districts

Chapter 4

The commercial districts reflect the full range of commercial activity in the city, from local retail and service establishments, to medium density regional shopping and office centers, to high density shopping, entertainment and office uses. Of the eight basic commercial districts, two (C1 and C2 districts) are designed to serve local needs, one (C4) is for shopping centers outside the central business district, two (CS and C6 districts ) are for the central business districts which embrace the office, retail and commercial functions that serve the city and region, and three (C3, C7 and C8 districts) are designed for special purposes (waterfront activity, large commercial amusement parks and heavy repair services).

All commercial uses permitted in the eight basic commercial districts are classified in Use Groups 5 to 16. Residential and community facility uses are allowed anywhere in C1 to C6 commercial areas, but not in C7 districts. Use Group 4 community facilities are allowed in C8 districts, but residential and Use Group 3 community facility uses are not permitted. Commercial use groups and commercial use districts vary according to (1) the functions of the various types of commercial districts, (2) the compatibility of commercial uses with each other, and (3) compatibility with adjacent residential districts.

The Zoning Resolution contains a set of commercial contextual zones which have been designed for mapping in commercial districts that are substantially residential in character. All developments within these zones are required to maintain the continuity of the existing street walls and a harmonious relationship with the existing buildings in the area. With one exception (C6-1A) all commercial zones identified on the zoning maps with the suffix A, E, or X are contextual. In addition to the contextual districts themselves, C1 and C2 commercial districts that are mapped as overlays in contextual residential districts also fall under the contextual regulations.

C6-1G, C6-2G, C6-2M and C6-4M are loft district designations. They are discussed in detail in Chapter 8. (C4-2F is a special commercial district mapped in Rego Park.)

The eight basic commercial districts are further subdivided to reflect variations in bulk and parking and loading requirements. These variations are indicated by a hyphen and second digit. For example, a C4-1 district permits a commercial FAR of 1, whereas a C4-7 district permits a commercial FAR of 10. Additional regulations are indicated by a letter suffix after the second digit (for example, C4-7A indicates a contextual C4-7 district).

In the high density commercial districts (central Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn), the floor area ratio is the principal bulk control. In those commercial districts where there is a high off-street parking requirement, the parking requirements are frequently as important as the floor area ratio in controlling the intensity of development.

In medium and high density commercial districts, arcades, open plazas, covered pedestrian spaces, subway improvements and other public amenities generate an increase in the maximum floor area ratio.

In addition to controls on the floor area of buildings, there are yard, height, and setback regulations to ensure that adequate light, air and open space are provided.

In commercial districts, the size or bulk of residential buildings or the residential portion of "mixed" buildings—buildings used partly for residential and partly for commercial or community facility uses -- is governed by the bulk, density, and open space provisions of a specified residence district.

Zoning Analysis of a Typical Building in a C5-3 District

C5-3 districts are found in the Wall Street area of Lower Manhattan. C5-3 districts permit a basic commercial floor area ratio of 15.0 which can be increased to 18.0 if such amenities as plazas are provided.

The typical building on a corner lot of 20,000 square feet (100 by 200 feet) would be a commercial office building ranging from 25 stories to 40 stories.

An office building in this district would have stores, restaurants, banks or other commercial services on the first floor and offices on the upper floors. These C5-3 districts are located only in central business district areas; therefore, no parking is required.

The size and height of an office building in a C5-3 district depends on the maximum floor area ratio and the sky exposure plane and tower provisions.

This floor area may be distributed anywhere on the lot, subject to the limitations of the yard and height and setback regulations. No rear yards are required on corner lots (those within 100 feet of a street intersection). Therefore, the building in this example could cover 100 percent of the lot.

The height of front walls is governed by the height and setback regulations which limit the height of the front wall of a building. Any portion of a building rising above the maximum permitted height of the front walls (85 feet in this district) would be required to set back a specific distance (20 feet on a narrow street, 15 feet on a wide street).

The designer of an office building has some flexibility in meeting zoning requirements. The architect may design pedestrian amenities at the ground floor level to obtain a building with more floor area than the basic maximum for the district and a slender tower covering 40 percent or less of the lot (and rising to 40 stories) may then be built. Alternatively, a low-rise building lacking pedestrian amenities may be developed in accord with the height, setback and sky exposure plane regulations, resulting in a high coverage 25-story building. Or, the developer may choose the high coverage maximum bulk option with covered pedestrian amenities and build up to the required initial setback level of 85 feet with a tower, reaching a total height of 33 stories.

In zoning terminology, a typical office building in this district would be described in the following manner:

Lot area:20,000 square feet
Basic floor area ratio:15.0
Maximum FAR with bonuses:18.0
Total floor area:360,000 square feet
Tower lot coverage:40 percent
Parking:None required
Use:Commercial uses such as stores, banks and other business or service uses on the ground floor with offices on the upper floors.


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