NYC Zoning Handbook:
Special Zoning Techniques
Since the adoption of the 1961 Zoning Resolution, the City Planning
Commission has created several zoning techniques to encourage and
preserve the character of different neighborhoods or to promote better
planning for new neighborhoods.
Contextual Districts (Citywide)
New residential and commercial contextual zones have been added to the
New York City Zoning Resolution. These zones are designed to maintain
the existing scale and street wall characteristics of certain areas that
are predominantly residential in character. Contextual residence
districts are indicated by a letter (A, B or X) or number suffix.
Contextual commercial zones are indicated by a letter suffix (A, B, or
X). C1 and C2 districts that are mapped as overlay districts in
contextual residential districts are subject to contextual regulations.
However, R7-1, R7-2 and C6-1A are not contextual districts.
In 1987, the Inclusionary Housing Program was introduced to help
maintain economic heterogeneity in certain high-density neighborhoods
that are increasingly being occupied by upper-income households. The
program is applicable in most R10 districts or their commercial
Under the Inclusionary Housing Program, the residential floor area ratio
of a development may be increased from 10.0 to a maximum of 12.0 for
on-site and/or off-site new construction, rehabilitation or preservation
of eligible lower-income housing units. Any off-site lower-income
housing units must be within the same community district as, or within a
one-half mile radius of, the market rate development.
The program is as-of-right and is administered by the Department of
Housing Preservation and Development (HPD). A development which receives
an increase in FAR must comply with the lower-income housing plan and
other statutory requirements described in Section 23-90 of the Zoning
All properties with lower-income housing units are governed by
restrictive declarations that bind owners of the lower-income site and
their successors to maintain these units as lower-income housing for the
life of the increased floor area in the market-rate development. A
building permit cannot be issued by the Department of Buildings until
the commissioner of HPD certifies that an acceptable lower-income
housing plan has been filed and approved. The certificate of occupancy
for the compensated development may be issued only after the certificate
of occupancy of the lower-income housing has been issued and the
Commissioner of HPD certifies that all the requirements of the
lower-income housing plan have been satisfied.
Development Rights Transfers
The City Planning Commission has created a zoning mechanism permitting
the transfer of development rights from designated landmarks to nearby
Without special designation and protection, landmarks are often
vulnerable in zones that permit high density development. Each zoning
lot contains an "envelope" of air space that can be filled by a
building. Since most landmark buildings in central areas of the city do
not use the full envelope, their unused development rights may be sold
to preserve landmarks, while at the same time allowing owners reasonable
economic use of their properties. The Commission may, after Landmarks
Preservation Commission review, permit some or all of the unused
development potential of the landmark to be transferred to an adjacent
lot. The transferred development rights allow the adjacent building to
be larger than usually permitted, with the extra bulk in the new
building offset by the smaller landmark structure. As part of the
transfer, the developer must prepare an acceptable proposal to preserve
and maintain the landmark.
There are three types of large-scale developments: residential,
community facility and the recently adopted general large-scale
development Residential and community facility large-scale developments
are located entirely in residential districts and their commercial
overlay districts, or in C3 and C4-1 districts. General large-scale
developments are located in all other commercial districts and in
manufacturing districts where a development may include any uses
permitted by the underlying district regulations.
In order to achieve good site planning, useful amenities and better
urban design relationships among existing and new buildings, special
provisions in the Zoning Resolution enable the City Planning Commission
to offer incentives and flexibility in the distribution of bulk,
density, open space and on-site parking to large-scale developments.
Use of Restrictive Declarations
As a condition of certain special permits and some zoning changes, the
Commission may require applicants to sign and record a restrictive
declaration that places conditions on the future use and development of
their land. These conditions may be designated to control building
design or land use or to require that impacts caused by the development
be mitigated by the provision of a public space or facility.
The restrictive declaration can be useful as a way of "fine tuning" the
use or bulk controls of the standard district regulation where there are
features of a site or proposed project that appear to require
specialized conditions or restrictions. It can also be useful as a way
of ensuring that such conditions and restrictions remain binding on the
land even if the proposed project presented in an application does not
move forward to completion and different development takes place.
The restrictive declaration is a covenant running with the land which
binds the present owners and all successors. It, therefore, gives notice
to future owners of the conditions and restrictions that are
continuously binding on the land.