NYC proposes new high-density zoning districts if state lifts floor-to-area ratio cap

March 28, 2024

The San Remo on the Upper West Side could not be built today under the existing 12 FAR cap. Photo by Bert Sagi on Unsplash

Mayor Eric Adams is calling on the state to lift a policy restricting the density of residential towers to allow for bigger apartment buildings and more affordable housing in New York City. Enacted in 1961, the existing floor-to-area ratio, or FAR, cap allows buildings up to 12 times the size of their lot. On Thursday, the Adams administration called on state lawmakers to eliminate the cap and proposed two new zoning districts in NYC that would permit buildings to be constructed up to 15 and 18 times their lot size, while also including affordable housing.

“New Yorkers need relief from the housing and affordability crisis, and they need it now. As someone who grew up on the edge of homelessness, I know firsthand that safe, secure, and affordable housing is critical to the prosperity of any working-class New Yorker,” Adams said.

“As we announce new, bold initiatives, I am urging lawmakers at every level of government to join us in our efforts to meet this moment and deliver homes that New Yorkers need and deserve.” 

For the proposed new zoning districts to move forward, state lawmakers must lift the FAR cap. Then, the City Council would need to approve them as part of the City of Yes for a Housing Opportunity proposal; a vote is expected this fall.

As part of the mayor’s proposal, new housing projects would be mandated to construct permanently affordable housing through Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH), which requires that 20 to 30 percent of housing in a new development is affordable for New Yorkers earning between 40 and 80 percent of the area median income.

The state’s current FAR cap was enacted during the 1960s when the rate of new housing development was so high that it limited the creation of commercial and mixed-use buildings. Now, the city faces a severe affordable housing shortage exacerbated by the existing law.

Several Manhattan officials have echoed Adams’ push for lifting the FAR cap, calling upon Gov. Kathy Hochul and state lawmakers to repeal the 1961 law as they finalize this year’s budget, according to the New York Post.

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, along with other 10 representatives of Manhattan on the city council, penned a letter to the governor detailing the restrictive nature of the FAR cap:

“New York City used to create large apartment buildings. In fact, there are over 1,000 buildings in Manhattan alone, built before the cap went into effect in 1961, which exceed 12 FAR. These include such icons as The Eldorado on Central Park West and 825th 5th Avenue in Lenox Hill, both so celebrated that they are designated as landmarks. Neither could be built today because of the cap.”

Those opposed to lifting the FAR cap argue that it prevents overdevelopment and “protects the character of historic neighborhoods” that if the law is lifted, would be “filled with glass towers,” according to the Post.

The Department of City Planning is currently conducting an environmental review of the City of Yes proposal and will pass it on for public review by community boards and borough presidents later this spring. It is slated to be presented before the City Planning Commission and City Council for a vote before the end of the year.

In addition to Thursday’s proposal, Adams is continuing to urge state lawmakers to enact tools before the end of the legislative session that will make it easier for affordable housing development in the five boroughs. Measures include a new tax incentive to replace 421-a, a new tax incentive to promote office-to-residential conversions, and the legalization of basement and cellar apartments.


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