East Harlem Rezoning

A joint project with CIVITAS and Community Board 11, the recommendations were developed to encourage the following goals in the community: affordable housing opportunities, economic development and job creation, new buildings that are contextual in scale with their surroundings and revitalization of Park Avenue.

The study area for the rezoning includes Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues between 115th and 132nd Streets. The area has not been rezoned in its entirety in over 50 years.

A copy of the East Harlem Land Use and Rezoning Initiative Final Recommendations can be found here: East Harlem Land Use & Rezoning Initiative Final Recommendations

On January 15, 2013 Community Board 11 (CB11) approved the rezoning recommendations for East Harlem developed by CIVITAS and CB11’s Landmarks, Land Use & Planning Committee.

The next step for the East Harlem Land Use & Rezoning Initiative Final Recommendations is the formal review, additional public outreach and adoption by the NYC Department of City Planning.

To gauge the community’s needs, the CIVITAS and CB11 team convened hundreds of East Harlem residents at community meetings and roundtable discussions in 2012 to discuss their visions for the future of this area.  The zoning recommendations have been designed to be fine-grained and site specific (unlike much of the current zoning) and to address needs across a diverse section of East Harlem.   This area includes the neighborhood shopping corridor on 116th Street; lots alongside Park Avenue’s elevated Metro North viaduct: and quiet, low-rise side streets.

Throughout the process, the team has met with elected officials and government agencies including the Department of City Planning, Department  of Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the NYC Economic Development Corporation.  Through fundraising among CIVITAS members and the support of the Greve Foundation and New York Community Trust, CIVITAS and Community Board 11 were able to hire Insight Associates (Ethel Sheffer, principal) and George Janes Associates, professional planners, to develop the zoning recommendations.

The complete recommendations and zoning  maps are linked below.  They include some of the following: R7-D (medium density, contextual) around 116th Street to allow for affordable housing incentives; C4-4L (commercial) to encourage commercial activity and guide urban design along part of Park Avenue; R6-A (medium density, contextual) was selected to protect the historic scale of upper Madison Avenue; an MX district to encourage a mix of light industry and housing along Park Avenue and C6-2 (commercial zoning) near the 125th Street corridor and Metro North rail station.   The study area does not include the 125th Street corridor itself which was rezoned in 2008.

For press coverage of the rezoning, please click here.


CIVITAS’s initiative to plan for East Harlem’s future and bring modernized and appropriate zoning to the western section of the neighborhood (Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues) is underway.

Over the course of summer and fall 2012, CIVITAS and  Community Board 11  (CB11), partners, reached out to many neighbors to define their future needs for their community.  Providing professional support to the team are Insight Associates, Ethel Sheffer, and George M. Janes Associates consultants. The outreach is focused on what East Harlem residents would like to see for the future of the neighborhood, and specific zoning recommendations can be drafted to implement that vision.

The focus area for the rezoning is over 60 blocks, including both sides of Madison, Park and Lexington Avenues between 115th and 132nd Streets.  125th Street was rezoned in 2008 and is not included in the current project.  One of the major landmarks in this area is the Park Avenue Metro North viaduct which casts shadows on the street below and provides a constant din of commuter trains rushing overhead.


The focus area for the rezoning: Madison-Lexington Avenues between 115th and 132nd Streets. Photo courtesy of Manhattan Community Board 11


Much of East Harlem west of Lexington and including the study area is zoned R7-2 (see below for a zoning glossary and resources), which encourages “tower in the park development” and a very dated vision of urban development. This zoning “has been called antiquated, undesirable and even anti-urban for what it does to the form of the city and it’s being changed all over the place.  But this doesn’t mean that the planners in the 1950s were wrong: they simply had a different vision for the city and what was important,” said George Janes.

CIVITAS and CB11 see the rezoning as a continuation of their major grassroots effort that resulted in a rezoning of many blocks east of Lexington Avenue. Approved in 2003, it was the first major rezoning of that area since the 1960s.

To gauge community needs in the rezoning, CIVITAS and CB11 have organized roundtable discussions, and committee meetings in East Harlem.  Participants have included a wide range of stakeholders including block and tenants associations, affordable housing developers, government agenies, elected officials, churches and other non-profits as well as many other committed, interested neighbors.

This project is made possible through the support of the New York Community Trust, the William and Mary Greve Foundation and Manhattan Community Board 11.

Planning for the Future in East Harlem

In May 2010, CIVITAS and Manhattan Community Board 11’s zoning committee organized a tour of East Harlem blocks that were rezoned in 2003.  This multi-year, community-led effort encompassed East 99th to 122 Streets, Third Avenue to Pleasant Avenue.

The 2010 tour was led by land use planner Richard Bass, who volunteered his time to explain how the zoning resolution is interpreted in new construction.  He also advised participants and community leaders on urban design concerns and details to address in future rezoning efforts.  Conceived as an educational tool, the tour was videotaped and produced as a 7 minute film.

East Harlem Walking Tour from Civitas Citizen on Vimeo.


Below are definitions for terms used in the video and other helpful information

Air Rights (see Development Rights)

Additional floor area allowed developers as an incentive to provide certain amenities or low-income housing.

Community Board
An advisory local planning and review body through which each of the 59 city neighborhoods deals with city agencies. Composed of 50 members, most appointed by the Borough President, who must live or work in the district. CB11 is the is community board for East Harlem from 96th to 142nd Streets between Fifth Avenue and the Harlem River, including Randall’s and Ward’s Islands: www.cb11m.org

Contextual Zoning District
Districts where bulk regulations seek to reflect the existing neighborhood character, by encouraging lower buildings with larger lot coverage and establishing a street wall through height and setback requirements. They carry the suffix A, B, or X – e.g. R10A.

Development Rights
The maximum amount of floor area permissible on a zoning lot under the regulations. Sometimes used to mean unused development rights-the difference between the maximum permissible floor area to the actual built floor area on a zoning lot. Unused development rights can be sold or transferred to an adjacent lot as-of-right through a zoning lot merger (see definition).

Inclusionary Housing Bonus
Programs under which FAR of buildings in R10 or R10 equivalent commercial districts may be increased from 10 to 12 for construction or rehabilitation of a specified percentage of lower-income housing units, on-site and/or off-site within ½ mile or within the same Community Board district.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR)
The ratio of total floor area that may be built on a single lot, to the lot area. If the FAR is 3.44, and the lot is 10,000 square feet, the maximum floor area is 34,400 square feet, not including below-ground space, mechanical spaces, and balconies.

Non-Contextual or Height Factor Regulations
Height factor regulations encourage development of tall buildings set back from the street and surrounded by open space. The building form is a product of the “tower-in-the-park” vision of urban planning popular in the 1950’s. In each district, the size of a building is determined by a complex set of rules involving the interrelationship between a range of height factors, floor area ratios and open space ratios. Higher floor area ratios are permitted on large lots where large areas of open space can be provided. Smaller lots in the same district, where less open space is possible, typically achieve smaller floor area ratios. In general, the larger the lot, the taller the building permitted under height factor regulations.

Street Wall
Legally, any building wall which faces a street. To Architects and Urban Designers, a series of building walls on or near the front lot line which together define the street.

Transfer of development rights (TDR)
Refers to transferring development rights from a landmark building to an adjacent lot or lots or to one across the street or to one diagonally across an intersection. This action must go through the ULURP process.

A zoning amendment increasing the permitted Floor Area Ratio (FAR )of buildings.

Zoning District Boundaries
A designated area defined as residential, commercial or manufacturing with similar use, bulk and density regulations. Click here to view the East Harlem Zoning Maps.

Zoning Lot Merger
A means of transferring unused air rights or development rights to an adjacent one within the same block and zoning district to permit construction of a larger building. (see Transfer of Development Rights).

In the News:

News reports from January 2012: East Harlem Zoning Plan Envisions Commercial Corridor, Affordable Housing

News reports from December 2012: DNAInfo “East Harlem Community Board Favors Hybrid Zoning Plan.”

News reports from October 2012: DNAInfo: “East Harlem Plans for Future With Rezoning Proposals” and The Daily News:”New zoning eyed for East Harlem’s desolate 17-block gasoline alley”

Additional Resources:

February 2010 Community Board 11 Rezoning Resolution.  For more information about Community Board 11’s rezoning efforts, visit www.cb11m.org

2002 booklet New Zoning for East Harlem is an educational guide to rezoning in East Harlem

NYC Department of City Planning website references:

NYC Department of City Planning: East Harlem Rezoning (also available at http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/eastharlem/eastharlem1.shtml)
NYC Zoning History
NYC Zoning Districts
NYC Zoning Glossary

For more information about zoning on the Upper East Side, in East Harlem, and in New York City, read the CIVITAS publication: The ABC of Zoning