What is a Zoning Analysis?

by | Last updated Jul 4, 2023 | General Architecture, NYC Zoning, Property Development

In property development and architecture, ZoningZoning is a set of regulations pertaining to land use and development established by the local municipality. Zoning regulations will designate certain building uses to specific areas and place requirements on the overall bulk of the building, such as height, floor area, and setbacks, to name a few. 

A Zoning Analysis is the assessment of applicable zoning regulations on a property resulting in a written and graphic report prepared by an architect. This analysis includes proposed use and calculations for bulk with diagrams illustrating the extent and limitation of potential property development.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect, and owner of NY-based architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Our firm regularly engages in Zoning for new developments, building enlargements, and property assessments. In this post, we will examine why you might need a Zoning Analysis and what goes into a Zoning Report.

When discussing Zoning, it is important first to understand two basic concepts: As of Right Developments and Discretionary Actions. Let’s look at these two concepts.


As of Right

“As of Right” is a term in property development and planning that means what one has a right to build in accordance with local regulations. An “As of Right” development must be approved by the Department of Buildings but does not require any special permissions or discretionary actions to develop. As long as it follows all the requirements, you have the right to go through with the project.

When filing an As of Right development, the city should issue you all the necessary approvals and permits as long as you complete the application and submit all required documents and drawings to prove compliance.


Discretionary Action

A Discretionary Action in property development refers to a proposed development that does not meet the requirements for As of Right. This means you may need to apply for a Special Permit, a Zoning Variance, or a Rezoning. These are issued on a discretionary case-by-case basis and can be denied.

The key difference between an As of Right Development and a Discretionary Action is that a Discretionary Action does not 100% comply with zoning codes and, therefore, can be denied for various reasons. In comparison, an As of Right Development must be approved if it fulfills and complies with all pertinent regulations.

If you would like to read more about discretionary actions, there are two other posts you can look at, one on Rezoning and another on getting a Zoning Variance.


Why You Need a Zoning Analysis

A zoning analysis is meant to determine what one can do with a given property with regard to all the applicable zoning codes. There are many instances where you may need a zoning analysis. I will provide a few examples here:

Assessing a Property: The most common time we are asked to produce a zoning analysis in our office is when someone wants to evaluate a property for potential development. This process usually happens when an individual is considering purchasing a plot of land and wants us to determine what they can do with the property.

New Buildings: We always perform a Zoning Analysis when proposing a new building. The Zoning Analysis is the first step in design. In fact, we typically refer to this as pre-design.

Building Enlargements: When proposing a building enlargement/addition, you will also need to comply with zoning regulations.

Change of Use: Changing the Use of an existing building may require a zoning analysis. Zoning regulates use, and bulk regulations can vary based on use.


What is Included in a Zoning Analysis

I would generally break Zoning into two separate parts, Use and Bulk. Use is a regulation about what you can build, for example, residential or commercial. Bulk is a set of rules on the extent of a development, such as the shape and size of the building.


Building Use Analysis

The first concern in a Zoning Analysis is the use. If you hope to develop a multi-family residential building in a given location, we must determine that such use is allowed. If it is not permitted, you may not be able to develop the property, or you may be able to apply for a Discretionary Action.


Building Bulk Analysis

The bulk will determine the shape and size of the building. Bulk regulations include but are not limited to rules on building characteristics such as:

  • Allowable Floor Area
  • Building Height
  • Required Setbacks
  • Required Yards
  • Lot Coverage
  • Open Space Requirements
  • Distance Between Buildings
  • Roof Pitch
  • Accessory Structures
  • Density (number of apartments in multi-family residential)

Many more nuanced issues go into a Zoning Analysis, but these are some of the key points.

Architectural Zoning Analysis

Architectural Zoning Analysis


Who Produces a Zoning Analysis

A Registered Architect produces a zoning analysis. Building developments require a licensed architect, and a zoning analysis must be produced, signed, and sealed by an architect when submitted to any City Agency. Even if you are just looking for a zoning report to do a preliminary assessment of a property, it should be completed by a licensed architect.


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post explaining What a Zoning Analysis Is

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.


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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.