Land Use

Property development in New York City is regulated by the Zoning Resolution. The text in the Zoning Resolution defines the development rights and regulations associated with various zoning designations. The zoning maps assign those designations geographically for every zoning lot in the city. For any individual property, the zoning designation regulates:

  • the permitted uses;
  • the size of the building in relation to the size of the zoning lot, a relationship known as the "floor area ratio" or FAR; and
  • other physical characteristics of the building.

Learn more about zoning and its administration

Most development in New York City occurs "as-of-right." That is to say, if the Department of Buildings is satisfied submitted plans meet all relevant provisions of the Zoning Resolution and the Building Code, a building permit is issued and construction may begin.

However, some land uses or construction cannot proceed without discretionary action by the City Planning Commission, the Board of Standards and Appeals or the Department of Transportation. The zoning text or zoning map may need to be amended by the City Planning Commission and City Council. A planning commission or Board of Standards and Appeals special permit or authorization may be required. If a building, structure or feature is in the public right-of-way, a revocable consent may be required from the Department of Transportation.

Neither the Zoning Resolution nor the Building Code regulate design aesthetics. For privately-owned property, the regulation of aesthetics is limited in New York City to construction proposed for locally-designated individual landmarks and properties in City historic districts, which is subject to review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The Public Design Commission reviews the design of construction planned for City-owned property, unless the property is a City landmark in which case the Landmarks Preservation Commission has jurisdiction.

The processes for these various land use reviews are summarized below. With the exception of items under consideration by the Public Design Commission, land use applications are reviewed initially by the community board's Land Use Committee unless a deadline or other circumstance dictates otherwise.

Uniform Land Use Review Procedure
Since June 1, 1976, certain land use applications have been subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP (pronounced yoo-lûrp). As the name implies, the intent of ULURP is to establish a standard procedure and timetable for the public review of applications affecting land use in the city. Applications to change the zoning designation for an area; select sites for new City facilities; and to acquire, sell, lease or exchange City property are some of the actions reviewed through ULURP.

The Department of City Planning is responsible for certifying that a land use review application contains all required documents and the appropriate environmental review has been completed. Once City Planning certifies a ULURP application is complete, it sends it to the affected community board(s) and others. Within 60 days of receiving the certified application, the affected community board (or boards) is required to hold a public hearing and adopt and submit a written recommendation. The borough president(s), City Planning Commission, City Council and mayor also review ULURP applications, in that order.

Community Board 2 generally schedules its ULURP hearings to take place immediately prior to a monthly meeting of its Land Use Committee. The committee then discusses the application and forms a recommendation for consideration by the full board.

See the actions subject to ULURP and the review process in graphic form (PDF)
Read more about ULURP

Board of Standards and Appeals Variances
Sometimes zoning regulations make development of a property impractical or causes an owner undue hardship. The constitutionality of zoning is legitimized by providing an independent body from which owners may seek relief. In New York City, that body is the Board of Standards and Appeals. The Board of Standards and Appeals may grant a variance from the use and bulk provisions in the Zoning Resolution to the extent necessary to permit a reasonable use of the parcel.

In order to grant a variance, the Board of Standards and Appeals must find:

  • There are unique physical conditions inherent in the particular zoning lot that cause practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship;
  • There is no reasonable possibility that development of the zoning lot will bring a reasonable return because of the unique physical conditions;
  • The variance, if granted, will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood;
  • The practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship were not caused by the property owner or its predecessors; and
  • The variance granted is the minimum necessary to provide relief.

The Board of Standards and Appeals also reviews applications to extend the term of a variance or special permit, to mention the applications most commonly reviewed by Community Board 2.

Learn more about the Board of Standards and Appeals

Applicants are required by the Board of Standards and Appeals to provide copies of their applications to the local community board and others. When the Board of Standards and Appeals has determined an application is substantially complete, it schedules a public hearing. Applicants must notify property owners within a specified radius of the subject property of the Board of Stadards and Appeals hearing.

Community Board 2 holds its own public hearing prior to the Board of Standards and Appeals hearing. Similar to ULURP hearings, the community board's public hearings are generally scheduled for prior to a monthly meeting of the Land Use Committee. Community Board 2 requests that applicants notify property owners near the subject property of the community board's hearing. Community boards have 60 days to notify the public, hold its public hearing and render a determination, or to waive its opportunity to do so.

Read more about the community board protocol for Board of Standards and Appeals applications

Special Permits
The City Planning Commission may in specified circumstances grant special permits modifying use, bulk or parking controls. Examples include development of public parking garages and floor area bonuses for certain public amenities. Special permits under City Planning Commission jurisdiction are reviewed pursuant to ULURP by the affected community board(s) and borough president(s) and then by the commission, and may also be reviewed by the City Council.

The Board of Standards and Appeals may grant special permits for modification of certain zoning regulations that are generally more limited in scope or impact than those reviewed by the City Planning Commission. Special permits granted by the board are referred for comment to affected community boards but are not subject to ULURP or City Council review.

Revocable Consents
Property owners who propose to construct or install a structure on, under or over a city street or sidewalk must apply for a revocable consent from the Department of Transportation. If approved, a revocable consent grants an individual or other entity the right to construct and maintain certain structures.

Learn what private structures are eligible for revocable consents

Revocable consents are generally granted for a term of ten years, at the end of which time they may be renewed. As the name makes clear, the city retains the right to revoke a consent at any time.

Learn more about revocable consents

The revocable consents associated with sidewalk cafés are under the jurisdiction of the Department of Consumer Affairs and follow a different review procedure.

Landmarks Preservation Commission Applications
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is responsible for the designation of City landmarks and historic districts. The commission also regulates changes to designated landmarks or buildings located in historic districts. The Landmarks Preservation Commission issues three types of permits; Certificates of No Effect, Permits for Minor Work, and Certificates of Appropriateness.

The community board reviews only applications for a Certificate of Appropriateness. Applications are generally considered at the monthly meeting of the community board's Land Use Committee, which forms recommendations after discussion. A formal public hearing is not scheduled. Due to deadlines imposed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, the Land Use Committee recommendations are taken up by the Executive Committee rather than the full board.

Read what information applicants are requested to provide to Community Board 2 prior to being scheduled for review

Public Design Commission Applications
The Public Design Commission, formerly known as the Art Commission, reviews permanent works of art, architecture and landscape architecture proposed on or over City-owned property. The projects include all park and playground renovations, construction or renovation of publicly-owned buildings, and features installled in the public right-of-way. Due to the varied nature of the projects, design review by the community board is assigned to the committee most closely aligned with the project.