Zoning for Quality and Affordability Initial Proposal

Frequently Asked Questions (Revised May 13, 2015)

Common questions and answers about the Housing New York: Zoning for Quality and Affordability Text Amendment. For more information about the broader proposal visit the Overview page.

Overview of purpose of the proposed changes to contextual height and setback regulations:

  • This proposal would modernize the city’s “contextual” zoning regulations to encourage architecture and buildings that better live up to the character of the city’s historic buildings.
    • Older buildings generally have higher ceilings and taller ground floors than what is encouraged by contextual zoning regulations.
  • The contextual regulations established in 1987 represented a great step forward in their departure from the previous tower-in-the-park model, which often produced buildings that clashed with the city’s urban fabric. However, DCP has heard from architects over a number of years that the 1987 contextual regulations have had unintended consequences, including:
    • Discouraging quality retail space and ground floors
    • Discouraging buildings that set back a few feet from the street, like neighboring buildings often do
    • Encouraging flat, “boxy” buildings with undifferentiated facades that create a monotonous effect
  • The proposed changes to height limits are limited, and designed to ensure that builders using cost-effective construction techniques can fit all the permitted floor area within the permitted limits, and give architects the ability to design more varied and interesting buildings.

A (revised 5/13/15): For residential buildings in over 95% of contextually zoned medium- and high-density districts, an additional 5 feet would be allowed to provide for more adequate ground floor height. In some of the highest-density districts, 10 or 15 feet of additional height would be allowed, which would enable one additional story to accommodate the same amount of floor area permitted today.

Affordable housing for seniors and Inclusionary Housing buildings are allowed additional floor area by zoning today. For these buildings, additional flexibility would be allowed to fit all the permitted floor area. This would increase maximum heights for these buildings by 1 to 2 stories in over 95% of all contextually zoned medium- and high-density districts, and 3 to 4 stories in some of the highest-density districts. In districts commonly mapped on side streets (R6B, R7B, R8B), no additional height is needed to fit the permitted FAR for senior housing.

* Also applies to Commercial Zoning district equivalents, see PDF Document Commercial/Residential District Equivalent Chart.

A: We are mindful of all the effort and local analysis that has gone into establishing the regulations in many Special Districts. Where the Special District regulations are based on a neighborhood plan that diverges from the purpose of the generally applicable regulations, we are not proposing to change the rules. These situations are an appropriate matter for neighborhood-specific planning, rather than citywide zoning changes.

A: No. The proposed changes would affect the shape of buildings, but would not change the limits on the amount of floor area allowed by zoning, with the exception of limited changes that would match the floor area ratios allowed for affordable senior housing with those allowed for Inclusionary Housing.

A: In historic districts, new buildings or modifications to buildings are subject to individual review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission for appropriateness, a process that also provides opportunities for public input on individual buildings. Nothing in the proposed zoning text amendments would erode this process, and no additional height would be allowed without LPC approval.

A: These construction techniques are important to the ability to build cost-effectively today, which is critical to meeting the city’s housing affordability needs. The zoning has fallen out of step with current construction practices and changes to codes over the years (such as requirements for sprinklering and ADA accessibility). This is a serious impediment to our ability to meet our affordable housing needs today. It doesn’t make sense to just wait and hope that new technologies will emerge to save us – we need to make our regulations work today.

A: The vast majority of the proposal would affect only medium- and higher-density districts. The proposal would not affect one- and two-family zoning districts.

  • In other lower-density districts, the only elements of the proposal that would apply relate to affordable senior housing: the creation of a practical envelope within which affordable senior housing could be built, and lower parking requirements for affordable senior housing to reflect the very low levels of auto ownership among these residents.

    (Note that many lower-density districts have substantial and growing populations of seniors.)