Street Wall Regulations Change with the New Zoning

By Austin Regan

By this time most architects with recent New Building applications submitted to the DOB have had to review the substantial changes to the zoning text that came about with the passage of Mayor DeBlasio’s housing initiative. Any proposed building that did not have it’s foundations 100% complete by March 22nd, 2016 is subject to the current zoning text.

In almost all cases, the Zoning Analysis presented as part of the New Building application needed to change. Many times the changes only amounted to changing zoning text references. For instance, the section that lists FAR for Quality Housing Buildings was ZR 23-145, and is now ZR 23-152. However, the content of the section did not change. So some annoying editing had to be performed on filing documents but building redesign was not required.

Quality Housing buildings had to go through the same editing for street wall location and height and setback regulations as a numbering change also occurred (Formerly ZR 23-633 now ZR 23-661). As was the case for FAR if the building complied previously it still complied under the new zoning. Unlike the first example the regulations did change and they changed for the better.

The former street wall requirements could be quite restrictive, especially for buildings in contextual “B” districts. The former regulation (ZR 23-633(a)(2)) stated that the street wall location of the proposed building with less than 50 foot frontage had to align with the neighboring building but did not have to set back more than 15 feet.

The new text for the same lot (ZR 23-661(b)(2)) now states that the adjacent building that must be aligned with must be within 25 feet of the shared zoning lot side lot line and must be within 15 feet of the street. While that change may not have much effect in Manhattan, it can have a huge impact in the other boroughs. There are cases where an existing adjacent building may have a parking lot in front of it. Therefore the street wall of the building could be setback 50 feet or more. The former regulation would have forced the adjacent new building to setback 15 feet. New regulations free that building’s front wall to be situated at the street line (assuming it is in a district that does not require front yards).

The change for buildings in “A” contextual districts was greater. Where the text used to state that the street wall could be no closer than any existing street wall within 150 feet of the zoning lot (ZR 23-633(a)(1)), the new text  (ZR 23-661(a)(1)) only requires alignment with an adjacent building within 25 feet of the shared zoning lot side lot line and within 10 feet of the street.

The loosening of the street wall alignment criteria should allow designers more flexibility and make it easier to develop sites at their maximum density. A new subsection was also added (ZR 23-661(d)) which addresses allowable recesses in the mandatory street walls. Prior to the addition of this section, examiners’ interpretation of what was allowable was widely divergent. The inconsistency in interpretation was frustrating to many designers. Now there is some clarity.