NYC Zoning Handbook:
The Department of Buildings, the Board of Standards and Appeals, and the
City Planning Commission bear the major responsibility for administering
the Zoning Resolution. In addition, the Department of Environmental
Protection, the Department of Health and the Department of Ports and
Trade are responsible for enforcement and administrative functions that
relate to their operations.
Enforcement of the Resolution
Enforcement of the Zoning Resolution is primarily the responsibility of
the Department of Buildings. The department reviews applications for
building permits, issues certificates of occupancy, and makes all
inspections relating to compliance with the Zoning Resolution.
The Department of Buildings has the following responsibilities.
- Reviews applications for building permits, and grants them when the
provisions of the Zoning Resolution and all other applicable federal,
state and local laws are met;
- Reviews applications for certificates of occupancy;
- Interprets the provisions of the Zoning Resolution subject to appeal to
the Board of Standards and Appeals and makes regulations for its
enforcement and administration -- as, for example, in the case of
accessory off-street parking facilities;
- Maintains public records of all building permits and certificates of
occupancy, decisions in appeals taken from the interpretations of the
Department of Buildings, final actions in all applications to the Board
of Standards and Appeals, and grants of the City Planning Commission for
special permit actions;
- Maintains records of specified non-conforming manufacturing uses subject
- Orders, in writing, the remedying of any condition which is a violation
of any provision of the Zoning Resolution; and
- Prosecutes violations before the Environmental Control Board, or with
the Law Department, before the courts.
There are two types of zoning amendments: amendments to the zoning text
and amendments to the zoning maps. Amendments may be initiated by the
City Planning Commission under Section 200 of the New York City Charter
or by a taxpayer, community board, borough board, Borough President, the
City Council Land Use Committee or the Mayor under Section 201 of the
Charter. Amendments to the zoning maps are subject to the Uniform Land Use Review
Procedure (ULURP) contained in Section 197-c of the Charter; text
amendments follow a similar review procedure but the City Planning
Commission is not subject to time limitations.
Article 8 of the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act
(SEQRA), as implemented by City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR),
requires that every proposed text or map change be assessed for its
impact on the environment. This assessment can result in a determination
prior to the public hearing process that the change (either as proposed
or under specified conditions) generates no substantial environmental
impacts, or it can require that the applicant prepare an environmental
impact statement (EIS) prior to initiation of public hearings on the
amendment. In the latter case, public hearings on the EIS generally
occur concurrently with the charter-required public hearings on the
The procedure for amending the maps of the Zoning Resolution pursuant to
Section 197-c of the Charter is briefly described below.
- An application for a map change is submitted to the City Planning
Commission by a taxpayer, community or borough board, Borough President,
the City Council Land Use Committee or the Mayor, or it is prepared by
staff of the Department of City Planning.
- Within five days after receipt of an application, the department
notifies the affected community board(s), Borough President and City
Council and, for applications involving more than one community
district, the borough board(s).
- When the Department of City Planning or the Commission finds that all
information necessary for adequate evaluation of the proposal (including
CEQR-mandated environmental reports) has been furnished by the
applicant, it certifies that the application is complete. Within eight
days after certification, the application is referred to the affected
community and borough boards, the Borough President and the City
- The community board holds a public hearing on the proposal and
submits its recommendation to the Commission within 60 days after
receipt of the application.
- The Borough President reviews the application and makes a
recommendation to the Commission within the 30-day period after the
community board review period. If the application involves land in more
than one community board, the borough board may review it within the
- Within 60 days after receipt of the recommendations of the Borough
President, the Commission holds a public hearing on the proposal and
adopts a favorable resolution which is filed with the City Council. If
the Commission disapproves, the zoning map amendment is denied unless
the Mayor certifies to the Council that such change is necessary. The
amendment then requires a two-thirds vote of the Council to approve.
- The City Council must conduct a public hearing and may vote to
approve, disapprove or modify the application within 50 days. Any
proposal to modify is first sent back to the Commission to determine if
it is within the scope of the action, as previously heard and approved
by the Commission, and the environmental review.
Zoning text amendments initiated under Section 200 of the Charter by the
City Planning Commission or by any taxpayer, community board, borough
board, Borough President or the City Council Land Use Committee are not
subject to ULURP but are subject to the City Environmental Quality
Review (CEQR) procedure. When the preliminary work, including
environmental studies, is complete, the Commission notifies the affected
community and borough boards and Borough Presidents before scheduling a
public hearing. There is no time period in which the Commission must act
on a zoning text amendment. However, once the Commission, after a public
hearing, adopts a favorable resolution and files it with the City
Council, the Council has 50 days in which to hold a public hearing and
adopt, modify or disapprove the resolution. (Otherwise, the Commission's
approval is final.)
If, however, a protest is filed with the City Clerk by the owners of 20
percent of the affected property within a 30-day period after the filing
of the amendment with the City Council, the amendment requires a
three-quarters vote of the City Council.
Zoning amendments differ from zoning variances in several respects. An
amendment is considered a legislative action and affects a larger
geographical area than a variance. It is generally unconditional, has no
time limit, and affects all property equally within the area of the
change. Zoning amendments must be approved by the City Planning
Commission with City Council oversight. Zoning variances, on the other
hand, are granted by the Board of Standards and Appeals, as described
Variances (Board of Standards and Appeals)
Variances address the specific hardships or practical difficulties that
may be associated with the development of a particular parcel of land. A
variance is granted for a specific development and may be for a
specified period of time. A new development on the same parcel would not
automatically be entitled to the benefits granted a prior development.
The benefits expire with the particular use or development for which
they were granted.
The Board of Standards and Appeals may grant variances only when it has
found that the peculiar shape, unusual topography or other unique
physical characteristics of a lot would cause the owner practical
difficulty or unnecessary hardship were the owner required to adhere to
the strict letter of the Zoning Resolution. In such cases the Board may
grant a variance from the use and bulk provisions of the zoning law to
the extent necessary to permit reasonable use of the land.
Before granting either use or bulk variances, however, the Board must
- The practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship is caused by unique
- The practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship was not created by the
present owner or his predecessors;
- A variance is necessary to realize a reasonable return;
- The essential character of the neighborhood will not be altered, use of
adjacent property will not be substantially impaired and public welfare
will not be detrimentally affected by issuance of a variance; and
- The variance given is the minimum necessary to provide relief.
(a) Board of Standards and Appeals
The Board of Standards and Appeals may grant special permits for certain
specified uses, and may modify certain zoning regulations.
The Board may permit a number of specified uses when it has made
findings spelled out in the Zoning Resolution which ensure that the
design, location or performance of the use will be compatible with the
character of the zoning district.
The Board may modify certain regulations within limits set in the
resolution. These include, among others:
- Limited expansion of a building into a district where it would not
otherwise be permitted;
- Limited enlargement or conversion of a building to a bulk not otherwise
- Modification of off-street parking requirements; or
- Construction of buildings in excess of height limitations around major
(b) City Planning Commission
The City Planning Commission must approve the location of certain uses
which would generate heavy traffic or raise other planning issues within
the surrounding area. For example, the City Planning Commission may
- Transfer of unused air rights from zoning lots containing landmark sites
to adjacent properties;
- Modification of bulk distribution requirements for commercial
development extending into more than one block;
- Floor area bonuses for certain public amenities.
The City Planning Commission must make certain that the particular
facility will fit properly into the neighborhood. It may also impose
appropriate safeguards to protect the neighborhood. A special permit can
be granted by the Commission only after public notice and hearing.
Special permits may be given for a limited term of years, and may be
extended for additional periods. An application for a special permit
must include a site plan and such other information as may be required
by the City Planning Commission. The Commission may grant the special
permit, subject to appropriate conditions, only after referral to other
appropriate city agencies for written comments and after a required
public hearing. A special permit may be granted only if the Commission
can make the general and specific findings set forth in the Zoning
Resolution. Approvals by the Commission of special permits are subject
to the City Council review in cases where the community board
disapproves and the Borough President twice recommends disapproval, or
where the City Council itself votes to consider the matter.
All special permits are subject to the City Environmental Quality Review
procedure. Special permits within the jurisdiction of the City Planning
Commission must also follow the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure under
Section 197-c of the City Charter.