What is Zoning?
Zoning is a set of laws that govern how large buildings can be, how they are built and what they are used for.
Every square inch of New York City that is not a street, a park on under water is zoned, meaning there’s a law governing what can be built there.
Zones in New York City are generally divided into three categories: residential (R), commercial (C) and manufacturing (M). There are other MX districts that combine some uses, especially manufacturing and residential. There are also “commercial overlays” that allow a mix of stores and homes.
Within each broad category are a set of sub-designations, usually numerical. These restrict the type of usage (for instance, M3 districts cater to heavy industry but M1 districts do not) but also address how big a new building can be.
The size regulations address how bulky a building can be, meaning how much of its lot it can take up. They also regulate how dense, or tall, it is. A key element in those regulations is Floor Area Ratio, which relates the height of a building to the width of its base. The regulations also affect certain design considerations, like setbacks (when a building has a narrower base at an upper floor).
New York City was the first U.S. municipality to pass a citywide zoning code, back in 1916. The Department of City Planning, which administers the Zoning Resolution, offers a detailed online guide to zoning, including a glossary and a guide to the different zoning districts.
The De Blasio administration has expanded partnerships with unions and amped up construction safety requirements, but advocates say the city could go farther to ensure low income residents access real careers in the industry.
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