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About Zoning
The Zoning Process

Zoning Text | Zoning Maps | Zoning Districts | Zoning Tools | About Zoning | Glossary

Background | The Zoning Process | Zoning Today

How Zoning Is Amended and Enforced
ULURP Chart -
PDF Document View a larger image.
Most development in New York City occurs as-of-right. Once the Department of Buildings (DOB) is satisfied that the proposed structure complies with all relevant provisions of the Zoning Resolution and the Building Code, a building permit is issued and construction can begin. No further action is required.1

The Zoning Resolution is comprehensive, but it must be flexible in order to accommodate and guide development. There are a number of discretionary actions that amend or modify the Zoning Resolution to allow a project to move forward or to implement broad changes in public land use policy. A zoning text amendment (changing the zoning regulations) or zoning map amendment (changing the zoning designation) may be needed to allow a development at a location or in a configuration that is not currently permitted but advances sound policy considerations. A City Planning Commission (CPC) special permit or Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) special permit ensures site-specific review of projects with potential land use impacts or policy implications. An authorization to modify zoning for a specific project may be granted by the CPC, provided certain conditions have been satisfied. A property owner may request a variance from the BSA when compliance with zoning might present an economic hardship or practical difficulties.

Zoning map amendments, commonly known as rezonings or remappings, and CPC special permits are subject to public review, pursuant to Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), as set forth in the City Charter. ULURP sets time frames for public participation in local and citywide review of land use actions. Zoning text amendments are subject to a similar review, also set forth in the City Charter, but there is no time limit for CPC review. All discretionary actions must be assessed for environmental impacts in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Act (SEQRA) and City Environmental Quality Review (CEQR).

Zoning Amendments:
Illustrative sketch map of zoning map amendment
Illustrative 'sketch map' of zoning map amendment
The Zoning Resolution is amended frequently, both to keep zoning up-to-date in a rapidly changing city and to fulfill the City Planning Commission’s charter-mandated responsibility “for the conduct of planning relating to the orderly growth, improvement and future development of the city.

An amendment to the zoning text or zoning map is a legislative action that is either citywide or affects particular areas or zoning districts. It may implement a citywide policy initiative, such as FRESH food stores, or address changing land use conditions. It involves introducing new text, amending existing text or changing the zoning designation on the zoning map(s), or any combination of such actions. It is generally unconditional and affects all property equally within the area subject to the change.

Amendments to the zoning text or rezonings are typically proposed by the Department of City Planning. They also can be initiated by a taxpayer, Community or Borough Board, Borough President, the CPC, the City Council or the Mayor. A private applicant may initiate a zoning amendment to facilitate a development proposal.

Zoning map amendments may be adopted only after public review pursuant to ULURP. Zoning text amendments, which are not subject to ULURP, follow a similar review procedure where they must be approved by the CPC and adopted by the City Council.

Zoning Enforcement:
The NYC Department of Buildings has primary responsibility for enforcing the Zoning Resolution and for interpreting its provisions. Among its responsibilities, the Department of Buildings:

  • Issues building permits after review of building plans to determine compliance with the Zoning Resolution and the Building Code
  • Reviews and grants applications for certificates of occupancy, allowing legal occupancy of new or altered structures
  • Interprets provisions of the Zoning Resolution, subject to appeal to the BSA, and issues  procedures and guidelines for its administration
  • Orders the remedy of zoning violations and, as appropriate, prosecutes violations
  • Maintains public records of all building permits, certificates of occupancy, inspections, violations and other property profile information, available at

In some cases, administrative and enforcement responsibilities are delegated to other agencies with special expertise. For example, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection enforces industrial performance standards related to air quality and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development administers Inclusionary Housing provisions.

1Some as-of-right developments require certification by the CPC or CPC Chairperson to DOB that certain technical zoning regulations have been met. Certifications are not discretionary actions.

Discretionary Actions

CPC Special Permits: The Zoning Resolution defines circumstances in which a developer may apply for a special permit based on the use, location, size or design of a project. The CPC, after a comprehensive review process, may grant special permits modifying use, bulk or parking controls for a specific project, ensuring that the project meets objective conditions and other findings about the potential impact of the project. Because they generally involve significant planning issues, CPC special permits are subject to public hearing and review, pursuant to ULURP, and may also be reviewed by the City Council. Examples of special permits include applications for large-scale general developments and floor area bonuses for certain public amenities, such as transportation improvements. Applications must contain site plans and the CPC may stipulate additional conditions and safeguards prior to granting the permit.

CPC Authorizations: The Zoning Resolution states that the CPC, upon request from an applicant, may, at its discretion and by resolution at a public meeting, modify certain zoning requirements for a particular project provided that specific requirements have been satisfied. For example, lot coverage controls in the Special Hillsides District may be modified if the CPC finds that development would not be possible without the modification, that preservation of hillsides having aesthetic value would be assured, and the modification would not impair the natural topography or essential character of the area. Authorizations do not require public hearings and are not subject to ULURP, but are informally referred to affected community boards for comment.

BSA Special Permits: The Zoning Resolution delegates to the Board of Standards and Appeals  the granting of special permits for the modification of certain zoning regulations which are generally more limited in scope or impact than those reviewed by the City Planning Commission. The modifications must satisfy findings spelled out in the Zoning Resolution and may include, for example, limited expansion of a building into a district where it would not otherwise be permitted, limited enlargement or conversion of a building to a size not otherwise permitted or adjustment of off-street parking requirements. Special permits granted by the BSA are not subject to ULURP or City Council review.

BSA Variances:  When development of a particular parcel of land pursuant to zoning would be impractical or cause the owner undue hardship, the BSA may grant a variance from use and bulk provisions to the minimum extent necessary to permit a reasonable use of the parcel. A variance may be granted, following a public hearing, if the Board finds that there is a practical difficulty or unnecessary hardship that is caused by unique physical circumstances, was not caused by the property owner or his/her predecessors and the variance is necessary to realize a reasonable return on the property. The essential character of the neighborhood must not be altered or substantially impaired, and public welfare must not be detrimentally affected.


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Zoning Text | Zoning Maps | Zoning Districts | Zoning Tools | About Zoning | Glossary

Background | The Zoning Process | Zoning Today


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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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