How zoning works in New York City

Zoning is a term that refers to the physical layout of a city. It's a type of city planning that has a goal of keeping different types of properties that use land in an incompatible fashion separate from one another.

For example, cities generally prefer to keep buildings that are intended to be used for industrial purposes away from residential homes. It's believed that by restricting the use of land for buildings of certain setbacks, shapes, sizes, and heights, it makes for a more amenable environment for all.

New York City's most current zoning restrictions were adopted back in December 1961. Although they're revisited on an as-needed basis, one aspect of them that has gone relatively unchanged over the years is the different classifications. In every borough of the city, properties are either zoned as commercial, residential or manufacturing.

Each city across our state is placed into certain zoning districts, each of which takes into account that city's population density and focuses on preserving its unique character.

In some cases, a property may have two different designations, both residential and commercial. In districts zoned for "commercial overlays," it's possible for you to have a primarily residential building with the bottom floor being reserved for commercial business.

With properties of this type, it can often be confusing to determine which height, floor area, setback, and other restrictions affiliated with residential or commercial properties apply. Article VII, Chapter 7 of the NYC Zoning Resolution handbook can shed light on this.

In other cases, when a property was originally built, zoning may have been different. It may have changed since then.

In some cases, especially if a property sustains damage, you may be entitled to rebuild, repair, or restore that property in accordance with previous zoning regulations instead of the most current ones. The conditions that must be met in order to lawfully possess a non-conforming property such as this are spelled out in Article V of the NYC Zoning Resolution handbook.

There are many other ways that zoning regulations may be either adapted or challenged to meet an individual's needs. If you've involved in a zoning dispute, a New York construction litigation attorney can advise you of your rights.

Source: NYC Department of City Planning, "About Zoning," accessed Sep. 15, 2017

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