Zoning codes in New York City dictate the use and bulk of buildings based on their zoning district. Use regulations determine what goes into a building such as whether it is for residential, commercial, manufacturing, or community facility use. The Bulk regulations govern the shape and size of the building, such as height, floor area, and setbacks. These regulations are all based on what zoning district a given property is in.
In NYC, one can request the Rezoning of a property or area from the Department of City Planning in a process called ULURP the Uniform Land Use Review Process. This application is based on the discretion of the DCP but can result in changing the zoning designation for the given location.
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture. I am going to review a basic outline of the procedure for requesting a rezoning in NYC. This can be a long and complicated process, but it can potentially result in a zoning change that is more favorable to the individual property owner and surrounding community.
What is Rezoning?
Rezoning means changing the zoning district of a given property or area by making an amendment to the city zoning maps. In NYC, this application is filed with the Department of City Planning (DCP).
When you change the zoning map, the regulations of the new zoning district apply. This can be extremely beneficial if you are looking to develop a property located within an unfavorable zoning district.
An example of rezoning can be to Up-Zone from an R6 to an R7A. These are both residential zoning districts, but in R7A you can develop a larger building with more units than you otherwise could in R6. This would be an example of changing the zoning district because you are looking for additional floor area.
One can also request a different use rezoning, for example from an M Zone to an MX Zone. An M zone such as M1-2 is a manufacturing zoning district. You cannot develop residential use in a manufacturing district. MX zones are Mixed Use Zoning Districts where you can develop residential use as well as manufacturing use. Requesting the MX would be an example of a rezoning for use where you would now be able to develop a residential building in a zoning district that otherwise would not allow this.
Residential Rezoning and Inclusionary Housing
It is important to know that when requesting a rezoning that involves residential zoning districts, the Department of City Planning will likely use the opportunity to include the Inclusionary Housing Program. This is a mandate and incentive program for mixed income developments. The Inclusionary Housing Program can provide additional floor area to potential developments, but will require a percentage of the building to be subject to affordable housing regulations.
I have another blog post outlining the New York City Inclusionary Housing Program if you would like to read more on the subject.
How To Request Rezoning in NYC?
When applying for a rezoning in NYC you will need to hire an architect, an environmental consultant, and a zoning attorney. They will prepare an application, conduct studies of the given area, and propose a building design for the given lot(s) subject to the rezoning.
In NYC, a private developer’s rezoning application including, environmental review, and building design is submitted to the Department of City Planning and subsequently reviewed by the City Planning Commission, The Community Board, The Borough President, and the Mayor’s Office.
Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP)
Rezoning is part of the Uniform Land Use Review Process in NYC. The rezoning process including ULURP will take one and a half to two years and be a costly endeavor. Below, I will provide a brief outline of the steps throughout the process.
The Steps to requesting a rezoning in NYC are:
- Assemble the Project Team
- Conduct an Analysis
- Create a Design Proposal
- Informational Interest Meeting DCP
- File ULURP Application
- Community Board
- Borough President
- City Planning Commission
- City Council
- Mayors Office
Informational Interest Meeting
The first step of the application is to have an “Informational Interest Meeting” at the DCP Borough office for the subject property. This is a very preliminary meeting where your team of professionals will present the existing conditions and current zoning as well as discuss the possible rezoning and projected district to be requested. There could be some negotiations at this point, or at later stages of the process. The DCP may be open to a rezoning but not to the exact district you request. For example, if you want to rezone to an R10 from R8 but they may only be open to an R9.
Your team will present a zoning analysis which will be reviewed comparing the current zoning and proposed.
This will be your first chance to see the possibility of success for your project. I want to be very clear in saying, the City of New York has all the authority it needs to deny your application. There are no guarantees when requesting a rezoning in NYC.
Filing The ULURP Application
Your Zoning Lawyer will prepare the application to DCP. The environmental consultant will prepare an analysis of the neighborhood and potential impact of the zoning map change and potential developments. The architect will prepare a zoning analysis, plans, and a 3D massing / rendering of the proposed development building design. The application will be circulated to the Community Board, The Borough President, and the City Council.
Below is an example of a 3D Rendering of a building we designed for one of our clients. This is for a rezoning project in Brooklyn.
Community Board Presentation
The rezoning will be presented to the community board which will hold public hearings and discuss the rezoning. They may be concerned with a myriad of issues. People from the public will have an opportunity to express concerns and ask questions. Some community boards are more friendly to development, and some are not.
One very important reality to understand is that there are lots of individuals involved when rezoning land in NYC. They will have opinions and concerns; this is to be expected. They may be open to a rezoning but not open to your exact proposal. Negotiations on the exact zoning districts can happen and you may get a rezoning but not the exact one you had hoped for. You may also get exactly what you request, every rezoning will be assessed on its own merits.
The Borough President of the affected area will review your application and can provide comments, recommendations, or waive their right to do so.
You need to consider how your proposal will affect the neighborhood. Will it be positive or negative? Will it cause traffic or parking problems? Will it create jobs, or reduce jobs? Does a new development block views from public areas or provide new opportunities to an underserved area?
City Planning Commission
The City Planning Commission will hold public hearings. They will either approve, deny, or alter your rezoning. They have the right to propose an alternate rezoning than that which you request, and there can be a great deal of back and forth throughout this process. As an architect, I provide and present the building design and City Planning may have comments on the zoning proposal or building design.
There is a high likelihood multiple design iterations will be required throughout the year or two of working on the project.
If the City Planning Commission approves your rezoning, it then moves on to City Council. Once again, they have the ability to approve, deny, or request modifications to your rezoning plan. If City Council does not act on the application, their rights are waived, and the City Planning Commission’s decision to approve moves on.
The mayor’s office will be the final review of the application. If they veto, the approval of the City Council can overrule the mayor’s veto with a vote.
When all is said and done, this will be a lengthy process that will involve a significant financial cost, but the results may be a much more favorable zoning district for your proposed property development.
Rezoning Concerns and Cautions
Rezoning is a long, expensive, and complicated process. As with any property development, do not go into this without doing your homework. Make sure to hire good, trustworthy, and qualified professionals. The best advice I can give you is to understand that no one, and I mean no one, can guarantee you a rezoning application will be approved. If you meet an architect or attorney who tells you they are 100% certain it will be approved, you should find another professional because they are just trying to sell you their services.
The process is long and costly but there are progressive milestones to be hit throughout, and you can stop the process at any time. The DCP may tell you early on that your application does not have much merit and has a low likelihood of being approved. At this point, you can cut your losses and rethink your game plan. If you proceed and get your application approved, you will have a much more favorable circumstance to develop your property.
Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on the NYC Rezoning Process.
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
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.