Zoning Variance Requirements in NYC

by | Last updated Jul 10, 2020 | New York City, NYC Zoning

What Is a Zoning Variance?

A Zoning Variance is a special approval to develop a property in a manner that does not completely conform with the Zoning Regulations. Zoning Variances are typically issued when a property has a unique condition that causes a hardship on the owners ability to develop “As Of Right.” In NYC the unique condition cannot be one that was created by the current owner.


NYC Zoning Variance

In NYC you can apply to the Board Of Standards And Appeals (BSA) for a zoning variance. The typical protocol is that the applicant file with the Department Of Buildings (DOB) first. The DOB will issue an objection to the proposed zoning. After you receive your objection you can continue with an application to BSA for a Zoning Variance. If the variance is approved you can then proceed with getting approvals from the DOB.

Before applying for a variance your architect can request a prefiling conference to discuss the merits of your case. For the prefiling conference with BSA you should at minimum provide the following items:

  • Zoning Analysis
    • This should show the “As Of Right” zoning and the noncomplying proposed zoning.
  • Historic data on the property, existing legal use, and existing conditions.
    • You must be able to prove the unique condition or hardship was an existing condition, not caused by the owner.
      • Property Survey
      • Sanborn Maps
      • Historic Photos
      • Title Search
  • Written project narrative.
    • Description of the proposed development
    • Findings required for a Zoning Variance (see below)


Zoning Variance Application

The following requirements for a Zoning Variance are outlined in the New York City Zoning Resolution Chapter 72-20. You can also contact BSA for assistance in filing for a variance. You will need an architect in order to get a variance approved.


Findings Required For A Zoning Variance

Zoning Variance Analysis

  • Unique Condition
  • Hardship
  • Conform to the Character of the Neighborhood
  • Hardship not Created by Owner
  • Minimum Variance Required


Unique Or Unusual Condition

All Items must be provided in your zoning variance analysis:

As Quoted from Zoning Resolution Chapter 72-20 (A)

“There are unique physical conditions, including irregularity, narrowness or shallowness of lot size or shape, or exceptional topographical or other physical conditions peculiar to and inherent in the particular #zoning lot#; and that, as a result of such unique physical conditions, practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship arise in complying strictly with the #use# or #bulk# provisions of the Resolution; and that the alleged practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship are not due to circumstances created generally by the strict application of such provisions in the neighborhood or district in which the #zoning lot# is located;”


Hardship Due To Existing Conditions

As Quoted from Zoning Resolution Chapter 72-20 (B)

“That because of such physical conditions there is no reasonable possibility that a #development#, #enlargement#, extension, alteration or change of #use# on the #zoning lot# in strict conformity with the provisions of this Resolution will bring a reasonable return, and that the grant of a variance is therefore necessary to enable the owner to realize a reasonable return from such #zoning lot#; this finding shall not be required for the granting of a variance to a non-profit organization;”


Proposed Development Must Conform To The Character Of The Neighborhood 

As Quoted from Zoning Resolution Chapter 72-20 (C)

“That the variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood or district in which the #zoning lot# is located; will not substantially impair the appropriate use or development of adjacent property; and will not be detrimental to the public welfare;”


Hardship Or Unique Condition Must Not Have Been Created By The Owner

As Quoted from Zoning Resolution Chapter 72-20 (D)

“That the practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship claimed as a ground for a variance have not been created by the owner or by a predecessor in title; however, where all other required findings are made, the purchase of a #zoning lot# subject to the restrictions sought to be varied shall not itself constitute a self-created hardship; and”


Zoning Variance Requested Must Be The Minimum Variance Necessary To Overcome The Hardship

As Quoted from Zoning Resolution Chapter 72-20 (E)

“That within the intent and purposes of this Resolution, the variance, if granted, is the minimum variance necessary to afford relief; and to this end, the Board may permit a lesser variance than that applied for.”


Zoning Variance in New York City

A zoning variance is granted based on proving the conditions outlined in the Zoning Resolution to qualify for a variance. We have another post on a specific Zoning Variance Example that was granted on one of our projects if you want to read more.

As an architect, I study design and development, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. Every project is different and must be assessed on its own unique characteristics. 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 Applying for an NYC Zoning Variance.

We wish you the best of luck with your project. If you want to discuss your zoning variance with an architect you can contact us directly. Feel free to leave questions or comments below.


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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.