Special Midtown District Zoning NYC

by | Last updated Feb 6, 2021 | NYC Zoning

In NYC the Manhattan Special Midtown District has special zoning regulations that allow for some of the largest buildings in New York.

In my opinion the Special Midtown District is the most complicated zoning in NYC. In this article we will barely scratch the surface but we will list a few key points one may want to understand about this district.

The Special Midtown District is divided into the following Subdistricts.

  • Special Midtown Subdistricts
    • Penn Center Subdistrict
    • Theater Subdistrict
    • Fifth Avenue Subdistrict
    • Preservation Subdistrict
    • East Midtown Subdistrict
      • Grand Central Transit Improvement Zone Subarea
      • Northern Subarea
      • Other Transit Improvement Zone Subarea
      • Park Avenue Subarea
      • Southern Subarea
      • Vanderbilt Corridor Subarea


Special Midtown Zoning Districts

NYC Zoning is broken into different districts. The Manhattan Special Midtown Zoning District has a few districts that are not necessarily found in the rest of the NYC Zoning Resolution. Below I will list these districts and their corresponding underlying district. The underlying district is the district who’s rule will apply with the exception of any special regulations. I know this is confusing NYC Zoning is quite convoluted especially when you are dealing with Special Zoning Districts.

  • CP5 & C5-2.5 have an underlying district of C5-2
  • C6-4.5 has an underlying district of C6-4
  • C6-5.5 has an underlying district of C6-5
  • C6-6.5 has an underlying district of C6-6
  • C6-7T has an underlying district of C6-7

The special zoning regulations for the district will apply and where there is no special regulation for any particular code you would apply the underlying district to each applicable code.

Overlap with Special Transit Land Use District 


In area where the Special Transit Land Use District overlaps the Special Midtown District the Special Transit District regulations will apply. With a few exceptions. These areas of overlap are the MiD-TA.

In standard New York City Zoning procedure there are exceptions to almost every rule. The City Planning Commission can waive requirements for the Special Transit District for specific developments. We will not get into detail on this in this post.

Overlap With the Special Clinton District 


Areas where the special Midtown District and the Special Clinton District overlap are identified as CL-MiD.

In areas where the districts overlap both district regulations will apply. In any situation where there is a discrepancy or contradiction between the two districts you should follow the more strict regulation.


Floor Area Ratio Modifications

The most impactful code from the Special Midtown District is the modification to Floor Area Ratio regulations. If you want to learn more we have another post explaining Floor Area Ratio “FAR” .

There are many modifications to FAR within the special district in most cases they will increase the floor area ratio. Within the Preservation Subdistrict Floor Area Ratio is lower. Otherwise the Midtown District has higher base Floor Area Ratios and many FAR bonuses available. The Midtown District areas have some of the highest FARs in NYC which can hit 30 in certain cases for Qualifying Sites. 30 is the highest available but there are also many areas that can easily reach FARs in the 20s.

Public Plaza Floor Area Bonus

Within applicable areas of the Midtown Manhattan a Public Plaza can be provided on a property development with an incentive for additional floor area for the building. In the Midtown district the Public Plaza bonus will not apply in all areas. Where it does apply the basic FAR bonus will typically be a multiplier of 6. This means if you provide a Plaza of 5,000 square feet you can get up to 30,000 square feet of bonus Floor Area. The FAR bonus will be maxed out at an FAR of 1.

We have another post you can see that goes more in depth on Public Plaza Floor Area Bonuses in NYC.

Transfer of Development Rights

The best way to get more floor area for a building is from buying air rights from other buildings. Midtown Manhattan is no exception and actually has special regulations for Air Rights Transfers. There are special regulations that apply to Landmark Buildings. There is a general intent to make these transfers easier with regards to landmark sites and theaters.

We have another post on Air Rights if you are interested.

Subway Station Improvements 

Depending on the property location a significant floor area zoning bonus may be obtained, by special permit, for Subway Station Improvements.


Height and Setback Regulations for Midtown Manhattan Zoning

In the Midtown Manhattan Special District the height and setback regulations of the underlying zoning districts are typically superseded by special rules. There are different methods of calculating height and setback within the special district.

Daylight Compensation

Daylight compensation is a rule for building according to a sky exposure curve. This is an imaginary curve that dictates the maximum extents of the building. Parts of the building may penetrate the curve but must provide compensation through additional setbacks or building recesses.

Daylight Evaluation

The daylight evaluation method is based on buildings blocking the sky from certain vantage points. A Daylight Evaluation Chart is used to determine the building volume. A score system is used to determine daylight blockage. A passing score is required for the building to be approved.  Yes this is a little complicated.


Pedestrian Circulation Space

Certain property developments in Midtown Manhattan may require a Pedestrian Circulation Space. This is for lots 5,000 square feet or more and 70,000 square feet of development.

A Pedestrian Circulation Space can be any of the following:

  • An Arcade or Corner Arcade
  • Building Entrance Recess Area
  • Corner Circulation Space
  • Relocation or Renovation of a subway stair
  • Sidewalk Widening
  • Subway Station Improvement
  • Through Block Connection
  • Public Plaza

We have another post you can see to learn more about Building Arcade Zoning.


Penn Center Subdistrict Zoning

There are special zoning regulation in the Penn Center Subdistrict specifically in regards to commercial and retail uses and transportation. The following are some of the issues that have special regulations:

  • Signs for retail spaces
  • Subway Entrance Signs
  •  Retail Frontage Glass
  • Street Wall Height
  • Floor Area Bonus for Rail Mass Transit Facility Improvements

East Midtown Subdistrict Zoning

There are special zoning regulation in the East Midtown Subdistrict. The following are some of the issues that have special zoning codes:

  • Hotels Require Special Permit
  • Commercial Use Location within Mixed Use Buildings
  • Floor Area Ratio modifications in the Vanderbilt Subarea
  • Special regulations for Air Rights Transfers
  • Floor Area Ratio Bonus for Grand Central Public Realm Improvements
  • Floor Area Bonus for Qualifying Sites
    • Transit Improvement FAR Bonus
    • Landmark Site FAR transfer
    • Public Concourse
  • Daylight Compensation & Evaluation
  • Height and Setback
  • Transit Access
  • Pedestrian Circulation

Theater Subdistrict Zoning

There are special zoning regulation in the Theater Subdistrict. The following are some of the issues that have special zoning codes:

  • Uses at Street Frontage
  • Use Group T
  • Entertainment Use Requirements
  • Signs
  • Frontage
  • Special Times Square Signage
  • Special Refuse Storage / Garbage Storage
  • Air Rights Transfers from Theaters
  • Continued Use of Theaters
  • (FAR) Floor Area Bonus for Theater Rehabilitation
  • Street Wall
  • Setbacks

Fifth Avenue Zoning

There are special zoning regulations in the Fifth Avenue Zoning Subdistrict. The following are some of the issues that have special zoning codes:

  • Special Use Regulations
    • Retail Requirements
    • Use Group F
    • Ground Floor Use Restrictions
  • Special Street Wall Regulations
  • Public Plaza Restrictions
  • Air Rights for Landmark Buildings

Special Midtown Zoning Preservation Subdistrict

There are special zoning regulation in the Preservation Subdistrict. The following are some of the issues that have special zoning codes:

  • Floor area Ratio Limitations
  • Street Wall Regulations


Special Midtown District Zoning

As an architect I study Building Codes and Zoning Codes closely, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to The special Midtown Zoning District. 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 Midtown Manhattan Zoning Special District Requirements.

I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.


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.