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Projects & Proposals > Citywide > Key Terms Clarification

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Key Terms Clarification Text Amendment - Approved!


  Update February 2, 2011:
On February 2, 2011, the City Council adopted the Key Terms Clarification Text Amendment. The text changes are now in effect. PDF DocumentView the adopted text.


Overview
The purpose of this text amendment is to clarify and preserve the intent of the zoning regulations in relation to the terms development and building, as they are defined in the Zoning Resolution. The City Planning Department has examined each section of the Zoning Resolution which uses the terms "development" or "building" and has concluded that in order to clarify the meaning of the regulations consistent with their intent, it is necessary to amend these definitions. In addition to rules relating to the terms "development" and "building," the Department proposes other text modifications that are necessary to clarify the intent of the Zoning Resolution, resolve conflicting regulations, or bring a regulation into accordance with current Department of Buildings practice.


Background
Key Terms Clarification Text Amendment
View the slide show presentation.

1. The Term "Development"
At the time of adoption of the 1961 Zoning Resolution, the term "development" was intended to refer to a new building constructed under the then-new regulations. However, since then, two things have occurred:

  1. the continuing applicability of the regulations to "developments" (new buildings) which are now existing buildings (no longer "new") has been questioned, and
  1. zoning text amendments using the term "development" have applied it inconsistently. In some cases the term has been intended to mean only the new construction on the zoning lot, and in some cases the term has been used to mean new construction as well as existing buildings on the zoning lot.

Thus, the meaning of the term "development" as currently used in the Zoning Resolution is unclear.

2. The Term "Building"
Existing regulations consider abutting buildings on the same zoning lot to be one “zoning building.”
Existing regulations consider abutting buildings on the same zoning lot to be one "zoning building." - PDF Document View a larger image


Proposed regulations would consider abutting buildings separated by fire walls as separate buildings.
Proposed regulations would consider abutting buildings separated by fire walls as separate buildings - PDF Document View a larger image

In defining a "building" as being bounded by open area or lot lines, the 1961 Zoning Resolution created a situation where if all buildings on a single zoning lot abut one another, they are considered one "building." This treatment of separate buildings as one building for zoning purposes has caused confusion and resulted in undesirable outcomes.  In some cases, rules intended to apply to one building do not work as intended when they are applied to several abutting buildings on a single zoning lot. The problem has become more acute since 1961 due to the increasing complexity of zoning lot configurations.

Another problem related to the current definition of "building" is that a new building that is constructed so that it abuts an existing building on the same zoning lot is considered an "enlargement" in zoning terms. This can lead to certain projects not meeting requirements that are applicable to developments but not enlargements. For example "enlargements" up to a specified size on the waterfront need not provide a waterfront public access area whereas all "developments" must provide a public access area. Similarly, street trees need not be provided for "enlargements" up to a specified size.

In addition to new definitions for the terms "development" and "building", additional text modifications are proposed that change or clarify the applicability of existing regulations, resolve potentially conflicting regulations, or revise outdated language.

Clearer regulations will benefit:

  • property owners, through clearer expectations of what can be built on their property;
  • the general public, through clearer expectations of what can be built in their neighborhoods;
  • the Department of Buildings, through more efficient processing of building permits and clearer standards for compliance during plan examination;
  • architects and developers, through clearer regulations that provide certainty and remove ambiguities that can lead to zoning disputes.


Proposed Zoning Text Amendment

This text amendment would clarify and preserve the intent of the zoning regulations in relation to the terms development and building, as they are defined in the Zoning Resolution


1. The Term "Development"
A “development” includes a new open use on a portion of a zoning lot.  For instance, when an existing manufacturing facility rents out an underutilized open portion of the lot for a new commercial vehicle storage yard as a separate use unrelated to the industrial use, that is a “development.”
A "development" includes a new open use on a portion of a zoning lot. For instance, when an existing manufacturing facility rents out an underutilized open portion of the lot for a new commercial vehicle storage yard as a separate use unrelated to the industrial use, that is a "development" - PDF Document View a larger image
The term "development" will be clarified to mean only a new building or a new use of land, as further described below.

Where a regulation is intended to apply to a building or all buildings constructed on a zoning lot regardless of when the buildings were constructed, the term "development" will be replaced by the term "building" or "zoning lot," so that the rules related to that section are applicable regardless of when a building was constructed. In addition, a new regulation is proposed to clarify that when a building is "developed" under the regulations of the Zoning Resolution, it continues to be subject to those regulations even after it is no longer a new building. In other words, the day after the construction is completed, the "development," having matured into an existing "building," is not suddenly exempt from the requirements pursuant to which it was constructed.

"The use of a tract of land for a new use," which is a phrase currently found in the definition of "development," has caused much confusion. This phrase was not intended to apply to new uses within buildings located on a tract of land. Instead, this phrase refers to new open uses, even on a zoning lot that already has an open use. The Department proposes to amend the phrase "use of a tract of land for a new use" by stating that a "development" includes the establishment of a new open use on a zoning lot or a portion of a zoning lot.

New accessory open uses on a zoning lot or portion thereof will be explicitly exempted from the definition of "development." However, two provisions of the Zoning Resolution which impose requirements upon accessory open uses will be clarified, including landscaping for commercial and community facility parking lots, and enclosure or screening of storage in manufacturing districts.

The revised definition of "development" will also reference a new Section 11-23, which clarifies the distinction between substantial alterations and developments.  It specifies that the demolition of an existing building that results in both the removal of more than 75 percent of the floor area of the existing building and more than 25 percent of its perimeter walls and the replacement of any portion shall be considered a new building  -- thus triggering the requirements of public amenities listed in the section, including street tree planting, planting strips, retail continuity,  transit easements, subway improvements or subway stair relocation, or street wall transparency, and provision of arts and entertainment uses in the 125th Street Special District. 


2. The Term "Building"
The amended definition of "building" will use the concept of "fire walls" to differentiate one building from another in a way that corresponds to the intent of the City Planning Commission, the Building Code, and to a layperson’s common understanding of what differentiates two buildings that abut. The amended definition will also include key construction features, including the independence of essential life safety systems, which are already required by the New York City Building Code. Consistency with the Code will avoid confusion for the public and practitioners, as well as ensure that zoning regulations operate as intended.

View Changes Resulting from New Definition of “Building”.

View Other Modifications.

View PDF Document "Table 1: Substantive Changes" for a more detailed analysis of all of the proposed substantive changes.

View PDF Document "Table II: Clarifications and Modifications Consistent with Department of Buildings Practice" for a list of all of the proposed clarifications.




Public Review
The Key Terms Clarification text amendment began formal public review on September 27, 2010 with the City Planning Commission’s referral of the non-ULURP zoning text amendment (N 110090 ZRY) to all Community Boards, Borough Boards, and Borough Presidents for a 60-day review period.

Milestones

Dates
City Planning Commission Referral
September 27, 2010
Community Board/Borough President/Borough Board Approval
December 6, 2010
City Planning Commission Public Hearing
December 15, 2010
City Planning Commission Approval (with modifications*). Read the CPC Report.
January 5, 2011
City Council Approval
February 2, 2011


*CPC Modifications
In response to issues raised during the public review, the Commission approved the zoning text amendment with the following modifications:
  1. The Commission modified the application to clarify that, for optional Quality Housing buildings on wide streets, the higher floor area ratio applies only to the portion of the zoning lot within 100 feet of a wide street.
  2. The Commission modified the application to allow a one-year extension of time for small and medium-sized enlargements and alterations to complete construction.  If not completed within the additional year, these projects must then comply with the changes in the Key Terms Clarification text amendment.
  3. The Commission also made minor changes and technical corrections, as described in the CPC report.
  4. The Commission severed one sentence in Section 24-111 from the rest of the application pending the outcome of litigation related to that sentence.

For more information about the proposal, call the Zoning Division of the Department of City Planning at 212-720-3234 or email KeyTerms@planning.nyc.gov.

PDF Document Items accompanied by this symbol require the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Brief explanations of terms in green italics can be viewed by clicking on the term. Words and phrases followed by an asterisk (*) are defined terms in the Zoning Resolution, primarily in Section 12-10. Consult the Zoning Resolution for the official and legally binding definitions of these words and phrases.
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