Friday, February 4, 2011

Making zoning fun!

New York has distilled their 1,500-page zoning code into a brisk 168-page handbook. You can order it here for $35. The city hopes to give power to the people through the new publication:
Along with admirably lucid prose, the 168-page book contains cartoonlike illustrations of what each zoning designation allows, as well as images showing successful applications of the provisions.

Zoning designation R8A, for example, is illustrated by 459 West 18th Street, an angular black-and-white building by the Brooklyn architects Della Valle Bernheimer. And the designation R8X is illustrated by On Prospect Park, the Richard Meier-designed condominium building facing Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Ms. Burden said she went over every “line, every illustration, every photo,” adding, “I love this guidebook with a passion.”

But this is no coffee-table tour of the city’s architecture; it is meant, Ms. Burden said, to be a tool.

Ms. Burden said a property owner (or a potential one) could use the book (parts of which were adapted from a less extensive 2006 handbook) to determine what is allowed on a given lot.

Rachaele Raynoff, the spokeswoman for the department, said: “It won’t replace lawyers and architects. But even before you bring in professionals, you’ll already have an idea of what you can build.”

Conversely, if a neighbor is already building, the book will help show if rules are being followed. “It will make it much easier for communities to flag early if something looks wrong,” Ms. Burden said.

Beyond identifying uses for specific parcels, the book could help activists and residents shape their neighborhoods, Ms. Burden said. “You might flip through the book, see an illustration that appeals to you, and think, I’d like my neighborhood to look like that — and you’ll see that it’s R3A or R4A,” she said. “And you might go to the Planning Commission and ask for one of those designations.”

“Without the handbook,” she added, “you would never have known that in a million years.”

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