Zoning is a set of laws or codes that dictate the rules for what one can build on a property. The zoning codes limit the location, size, shape, and use of buildings. A zoning analysis is an architectural study to determine the legal development rights of a property. The property zoning analysis investigates the local zoning codes to illustrate what use a building can have legally as well as its allowed size, height, square footage, how it can be located on a given property, and various other zoning requirements.
People often call our firm when they own a property or are looking to buy a property and want to develop it. They don’t know what they can build. They ask: What is the first step? How do we know what we can build? Our response is: “You need a zoning analysis”. We often refer to these as a property zoning report, or a zoning analysis, but it is generally a part of pre-design and feasibility study.
What is an Architectural Zoning Analysis?
An Architectural Zoning Analysis is a comprehensive report that through text and diagrams assess and illustrates the development rights of a property according to local zoning regulations. The analysis determines what one can build on a given property and is an essential part of zoning due diligence. As an architect, I review the property, perform zoning calculations, and determine what can be built in accordance to the applicable zoning codes. We make diagrams and write an analysis illustrating the proposed development. This is the Property Zoning Report. Although the zoning report will have diagrams this is not a building design.
The first step in a property development is the property zoning analysis. This will be the starting point of any new construction project, building enlargement, or conversion. The goal of the zoning analysis will be to figure out the”development rights”. Development rights are your rights to develop a property in accordance with bulk and use regulations. An Architectural Zoning Analysis or Zoning Reports are how architects like me illustrate these requirements. Development rights are often referred to as air rights. We have another post you can read on Air Rights / Development Rights.
When Do You Need a Zoning Analysis?
Here are some examples of project types where you may want to get a zoning report as part of your zoning due diligence.
- New Building Development
- Any new building residential, commercial, large, or small.
- Building a New House
- New Homes, subdivisions, single or two family.
- Building Addition
- Horizontal additions or Vertical building additions / enlargements of any kind for buildings and houses.
- Change of Building use
- Even though you may not be changing the size of an existing building when you change the use you may need to do a zoning analysis. Zoning not only governs the size of a building but also the use of a building.
What Architect’s need when doing a Zoning Analysis
- Proposed Use
- Existing Restrictions
- Property Survey
An architect needs three things to conduct a zoning analysis, besides a location. The first is to know what you are looking to do. Zoning can often have multiple options so if we know your goals at the start that can help us focus the analysis. If you do not know what you want to do then the analysis can be more broad and cover the general regulations and options. The second is to know of any easements, covenants, deed restrictions or development / air rights transfers on the property. The third thing we need is a property survey. The property survey is done by a licensed land surveyor not by an architect. Always make sure to hire licensed professionals.
The property survey should be a complete “architectural survey”.
Property Zoning Report
What goes into a zoning report and analysis?
Our Zoning reports have 4 parts. Architects will do their reports differently so be clear this is our structure for a report. Here are the 4 parts:
- General Property Information
- Zoning Code Analysis
- Conclusion / Interpretation
- Diagrams / Illustrations
General Property Information: We interpret the property survey and collect data on the property. This is where we list the stats on the property. Lot area, lot type, Zoning districts, existing conditions, etc…
Zoning Code and Analysis: This is the core of the report. Here we list the relevant zoning code sections that will impact the development. This will include calculations and practical application of the zoning code. This is the technical details of the report.
Conclusion / Interpretation: Zoning is complicated. We make sure that we include written text in laymen’s terms that anyone should be able to understand.
Diagrams / Illustrations: We include 2D and 3D diagrams to illustrate the development potential. Although we provide illustrations this is not a building design.
What kind of Information do we get in a zoning analysis?
The goal of the analysis is to know what you can build. There are many questions that need to be answered. Therefore a zoning report is conducted to identify and interpret the applicable zoning codes. Here are some examples of questions to answer in a zoning report:
The allowed use of the property: If commercial, what types of commercial use can there be? If residential, how many units are allowed. Are mixed use buildings allowed and if so at what proportion.
The building Bulk: How many square feet is allowed? How tall can the building be? How many floors? Does the building need setbacks?
Site Planning: Does the building have required yards? How much of the property can be developed? What distance must be maintained between buildings?
Parking: Is parking allowed? Is parking Required? If so, How many spaces? Can we have a driveway?
Property Zoning Reports
A Property Zoning Report will help you understand what you can do with your land. This will always be a good starting point when embarking on a property development.
Who does a Zoning Report?
Zoning reports are usually done by an architect. There are also lawyers who specialize in zoning. A zoning lawyer can help you with your zoning analysis, especially if there is a complicated aspect to interpret. Typically you will go to an architect for your property zoning report. Always make sure you hire licensed professionals.
Zoning Reports and a Zoning Analysis
In this article we reviewed some of our projects and some basics with regards to Zoning Analysis and Zoning Reports. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.
You can check out our homepage to learn more about our New York Architecture Firm Fontan Architecture.
Thank You for reading our blog post on zoning analysis.
I hope this was helpful. Feel free to leave questions or comments below. If you are interested in getting a zoning analysis on a property or are looking for an architect you can contact us 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.