Commercial Overlay Explained NYC Zoning

by | Last updated Jun 2, 2020 | NYC Zoning

A commercial overlay in NYC is an area located in a residential zoning district that allows for commercial use. You can have a commercial building or mixed use building in a residential zone. These uses are usually retail, restaurants, bakeries, beauty salons, small offices, etc…


Commercial Overlay In Residential Zoning NYC

Since commercial overlays are in primarily residential neighborhoods they often result in mixed use buildings depending on the zoning. Or one to two story commercial spaces. In these districts you have three options:

  1. Residential Building
  2. Commercial Building
  3. Mixed Use Building


Build a Residential Building (Option 1)

You are not required to build a commercial building in a commercial overlay within a residential zoning district. So if you want to ignore the commercial aspect just build a regular residential building. For example, one of our clients had a property in Bushwick, Brooklyn that was in an R6 Residential Zone with a C2-3 Commercial Overlay. This client had no interest in the commercial use of the building so we designed a building as per typical R6 Zoning. See another post if you want to learn more about R6 Zoning. 

Build a Commercial building (Option 2)

You have the choice of only building a commercial building with a retail store for example. If this is the case you need to follow the zoning regulations for the commercial overlay. Let’s use the example of the Bushwick project we mentioned. The building is in an R6 with a C2-3 zoning.

R6 with Quality Housing Program on a wide street has an FAR of 3

C2-3 Zoning has an FAR of of 2 when in an R6 Zoning district.  You have to use this FAR to determine the building square footage if it is only a commercial building.

If you do a building with only commercial you would have an FAR of 2 not 3. The commercial building would result in a smaller building than the residential.

Build a Mixed Use Building (Option 3)

As per NYC zoning a mixed use building is any building that has residential and another use in it. In residential districts with commercial overlays you can build mixed use buildings. The residential use has to be above the commercial portion.

In order to determine the FAR of a mixed use building you choose the higher of the 2 FARs.

If the Residential FAR is 3 and the Commercial FAR is 2 the the entire mixed use building can be 3. Since the Commercial is the smaller use it cannot exceed an FAR of 2. You can build the commercial less than its max FAR but you cannot build more than 2.

Commercial Overlay Zoning Districts:

In R1R5 with the exception of R5B The FAR for a commercial overlay is always 1.

In R5b and R6 – R10 The FAR for a commercial overlay is always 2.

The specific commercial uses permitted change depending on the commercial overlay bellow is a list of all commercial overlay districts. Remember these are all located within a residential districts. They may have parking requirements depending on size and use.


NYC Commercial Overlay

NYC Commercial Overlay Map Example


Commercial Overlay Zoning

As an architect I study Zoning Codes closely, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to Commercial Overlay Zoning. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.


Thank You for reading our blog post on NYC Commercial Overlay Zoning.

I hope this was helpful. If you want to discuss a specific project with an architect please feel free to contact us directly.


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Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.