NYC Zoning Handbook:
Special Zoning Techniques

Chapter 10

Since the adoption of the 1961 Zoning Resolution, the City Planning Commission has created several zoning techniques to encourage and preserve the character of different neighborhoods or to promote better planning for new neighborhoods.


Contextual Districts (Citywide)

New residential and commercial contextual zones have been added to the New York City Zoning Resolution. These zones are designed to maintain the existing scale and street wall characteristics of certain areas that are predominantly residential in character. Contextual residence districts are indicated by a letter (A, B or X) or number suffix. Contextual commercial zones are indicated by a letter suffix (A, B, or X). C1 and C2 districts that are mapped as overlay districts in contextual residential districts are subject to contextual regulations. However, R7-1, R7-2 and C6-1A are not contextual districts.

Inclusionary Housing

In 1987, the Inclusionary Housing Program was introduced to help maintain economic heterogeneity in certain high-density neighborhoods that are increasingly being occupied by upper-income households. The program is applicable in most R10 districts or their commercial equivalents.

Under the Inclusionary Housing Program, the residential floor area ratio of a development may be increased from 10.0 to a maximum of 12.0 for on-site and/or off-site new construction, rehabilitation or preservation of eligible lower-income housing units. Any off-site lower-income housing units must be within the same community district as, or within a one-half mile radius of, the market rate development.

The program is as-of-right and is administered by the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). A development which receives an increase in FAR must comply with the lower-income housing plan and other statutory requirements described in Section 23-90 of the Zoning Resolution.

All properties with lower-income housing units are governed by restrictive declarations that bind owners of the lower-income site and their successors to maintain these units as lower-income housing for the life of the increased floor area in the market-rate development. A building permit cannot be issued by the Department of Buildings until the commissioner of HPD certifies that an acceptable lower-income housing plan has been filed and approved. The certificate of occupancy for the compensated development may be issued only after the certificate of occupancy of the lower-income housing has been issued and the Commissioner of HPD certifies that all the requirements of the lower-income housing plan have been satisfied.

Development Rights Transfers

The City Planning Commission has created a zoning mechanism permitting the transfer of development rights from designated landmarks to nearby parcels.

Without special designation and protection, landmarks are often vulnerable in zones that permit high density development. Each zoning lot contains an "envelope" of air space that can be filled by a building. Since most landmark buildings in central areas of the city do not use the full envelope, their unused development rights may be sold to preserve landmarks, while at the same time allowing owners reasonable economic use of their properties. The Commission may, after Landmarks Preservation Commission review, permit some or all of the unused development potential of the landmark to be transferred to an adjacent lot. The transferred development rights allow the adjacent building to be larger than usually permitted, with the extra bulk in the new building offset by the smaller landmark structure. As part of the transfer, the developer must prepare an acceptable proposal to preserve and maintain the landmark.

Large-Scale Developments

There are three types of large-scale developments: residential, community facility and the recently adopted general large-scale development Residential and community facility large-scale developments are located entirely in residential districts and their commercial overlay districts, or in C3 and C4-1 districts. General large-scale developments are located in all other commercial districts and in manufacturing districts where a development may include any uses permitted by the underlying district regulations.

In order to achieve good site planning, useful amenities and better urban design relationships among existing and new buildings, special provisions in the Zoning Resolution enable the City Planning Commission to offer incentives and flexibility in the distribution of bulk, density, open space and on-site parking to large-scale developments.

Use of Restrictive Declarations

As a condition of certain special permits and some zoning changes, the Commission may require applicants to sign and record a restrictive declaration that places conditions on the future use and development of their land. These conditions may be designated to control building design or land use or to require that impacts caused by the development be mitigated by the provision of a public space or facility.

The restrictive declaration can be useful as a way of "fine tuning" the use or bulk controls of the standard district regulation where there are features of a site or proposed project that appear to require specialized conditions or restrictions. It can also be useful as a way of ensuring that such conditions and restrictions remain binding on the land even if the proposed project presented in an application does not move forward to completion and different development takes place.

The restrictive declaration is a covenant running with the land which binds the present owners and all successors. It, therefore, gives notice to future owners of the conditions and restrictions that are continuously binding on the land.

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