In property development and architecture zoning is a set of regulations pertaining to how land is developed and used established by the local municipality. Zoning regulations will designate certain building uses to specific areas as well as place requirements on the overall bulk of the building such as height, floor area, setbacks, etc…
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 extents and limitation of a potential property development.
I am Jorge Fontan, an architect and owner of NY based architecture firm Fontan Architecture. At our firm we engage in zoning on a regular basis for new developments, building enlargements, and property assessments. In this post we are going to look at some of the reasons why you might need a Zoning Analysis and what goes into a Zoning Report.
When it comes to discussions on zoning it is important to first understand two basic concepts and those are 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 necessary approvals and permits as long as you complete the application and submit all necessary documents and drawings to prove compliance.
A Discretionary Action in property development is a reference to a proposed development and does not meet the requirements of an As of Right development. 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 therefor can be denied for a variety of reasons where as an As of Right Development must be approved if it fulfills and complies with all pertinent regulations.
Why You Need a Zoning Analysis
A zoning analysis is meant to determine what one can do with a given property with regards to all the applicable zoning codes. There are many instances where you may need a zoning analysis. I will give 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 assess a property for a potential development. This 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. This is the first step in design, in fact we typically refer to this as predesign.
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
In general I would break zoning into two separate parts. Use and Bulk. Use is regulations about what you can build, for example residential or commercial. Bulk is regulations 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 will be the use. If you are hoping to develop a multi family residential building in a given location, it must be determined that such a use is allowed. If it is not allowed, you may not be able to develop the property, or perhaps you may be able to apply for a discretionary action.
In the case of mixed use buildings, for example retail and residential in one building, there are also regulations on location of uses, separation, and how they relate to each other.
Building Bulk Analysis
Bulk is the regulations on the size of a building. These will determine the shape and size of the building. Bulk regulations include but are not limited to regulations 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)
There are many more nuanced issues that go into a zoning analysis, but these are some of the key points.
Who Produces a Zoning Analysis
A zoning analysis is produced by a Registered Architect. 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.
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 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.