Developing a Building in NYC, Development Tips

by | Last updated Jun 4, 2020 | New Building Design, Property Development

Developing a building in New York City is complicated. As an architect I get all sorts of different clients. I have noticed large number of my clients are first time developers. In this blog post we will be focusing on a few issues you may not know when building a building in NYC.


Developing a Building in NYC

  1. Zoning Is Complicated
  2. Zoning Deductions 
  3. Building Additions may have to follow new building codes 
  4. Accessibility
  5. Elevator Requirements
  6. Fire Sprinkler
  7. Small Zoning Lots
  8. Residential And Commercial Zoning
  9. Sliver Law
  10. Inclusionary Housing Penalties


Zoning Is Complicated

Zoning is complicated make sure you have a professional who truly understands zoning. You can get a zoning analysis done by an architect as Pre Design Architectural services. If you are developing a building the first steps are not design but analysis. Make sure to understand the site conditions, zoning, and what you can do before thinking about design.


Zoning Deductions

There are zoning deductions available to you that may help increase the size of your building’s buildable area. People usually overestimate their zoning deductions they do not account for that much. In a small building you will not get much in deductions in a larger building you will have much more benefit.

The Quality Housing Program has additional deductions that are not normally available in other buildings. Quality Housing has nothing to do with low income housing it is just a separate set of zoning regulations.


Building Additions Or New Building

Essentially, If you are keeping any portion of an existing building it is not filed as a new building. you may be required to follow codes as a new building and provide all new building requirements in certain cases of building enlargements. this is called a “Big Alt”, that means a job filed as an alteration type 1 that must comply with new building regulations.



Handicapped accessibility is almost always a requirement. Accessibility requirements start in residential buildings with 4 units or more. In commercial use they will almost always be required with few exceptions.



In many cases elevators are mandatory in New York. For example all residential buildings over 4 stories are required to have an elevator.


Fire Sprinklers

I am constantly amazed at how opposed people are to putting fire sprinklers in their buildings. The simple fact is that most likely your building will require fire sprinkles. Even if it is a building conversion not a new building.


Small Residential Zoning Lots

The zoning code has minimum lot sizes based on each zoning district. If your property is smaller then the minimum you may have a problem developing it. The zoning code restricts residential developments of small zoning lots to one or two family houses.


Residential And Commercial Zoning

Commercial In Residential Zoning

In certain instances you may be able to build commercial buildings in a residential zone. There are Commercial Overlay Zoning Districts that allow for commercial floor area as an option in a residential zoning district.

Residential In Commercial Zoning

Most Commercial districts have residential equivalent districts. This means you are allowed to build residential in most commercial zones. Building residential in a commercial districts is very common. The commercial district will have a residential zoning district associated with it and you would follow those zoning regulations.

Hotels are Commercial Zoning

Hotels are commercial zoning not residential zoning. In most residential zoning districts hotels are not allowed except for certain commercial overlays. In most commercial districts you can build a hotel.


Sliver Law Restrictions

The Sliver Law is a zoning regulation that prevents tall skinny buildings in certain zoning districts. If you have a property less then 45 feet wide you might have to contend with the Sliver Law. Have your architect look into this. It does not apply in all zoning districts.

My clients are often surprised to find out that even though the zoning code allows for additional floor area on the property they cannot use this floor area when building their building because the code restricts the building height.


Inclusionary Housing Bonus & Penalties

Some Parts of NYC are Inclusionary Housing Designated areas and Inclusionary Housing Mandatory Areas. The Inclusionary Housing Program is designed to promote affordable housing.

In the Inclusionary Housing Mandatory Areas you must include a percentage of affordable housing units in your building development. You have no choice. In the Inclusionary Housing Designated Areas providing affordable housing is optional. Buildings that  do provide affordable units receive a zoning bonus. If you do not provide the affordable units you may be subject to a zoning penalty decreasing the size of your allowable building floor area. Make sure you know if your property is subject to Inclusionary Housing because this will greatly affect your development.


Building Development

As an architect, I study the process of building, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article, we reviewed just some of the basic concepts with regards to property development. 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 Developing a Building in NYC

We wish you good luck on your upcoming developments. Please leave questions or comments below. You can contact us directly if you wish to speak with an architect about a specific project.


Contact Fontan Architecture


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.