Everything you ever wanted to know about NYC air rights*!

*But may have been too far in the shadow of a huge residential skyscraper to know to ask!

The purpose of the interactive map at the link below below, developed by The Municipal Arts Society of New York (MAS), is to alert New Yorkers of the potential for skyscrapers to rise where none now exist.

The thought process behind the project was that by raising awareness, neighborhood residents could decide to take a more active role, if they so choose, in the approval process that a potential developer would need to go through.

The data in this map is meant for informational purposes and does not mean that development will definitely occur but that the chance of it exists.

From the MAS website these are the terms describing how transferrable air-rights work:

Transferable development rights, TDRs or air rights, allow for the transfer of unused development rights to another development site. The transfer of these air rights allows buildings to become taller and bigger than the city zoning code allows.

These maps concern the primary way transferring unused development rights in New York City: zoning lot mergers. Adjacent lots in the city can be assembled and treated as a single zoning lot, or “merged” into one lot to allow development rights to transfer from one site to another.

Development on the site is then allowed “as-of-right,” meaning it does not require public or environmental review. Floor Area Ratio, or FAR, is the principal bulk regulation controlling the scale of buildings. FAR is the ratio of total building floor area allowed to the area of its host zoning lot. A higher FAR generally allows larger buildings and a lower FAR allows smaller buildings.

Finding the total amount of development allowed on a site requires a simple calculation. The area of the lot multiplied by the FAR produces the maximum amount of development allowed. This is usually quantified in square feet. For example, on a 10,000 square foot lot with a maximum FAR of 1.0, the floor area on the zoning lot cannot exceed 10,000 square feet.

Adapted from the New York City Department of City Planning glossary

New York City zoning has three types of FAR: residential, commercial and facility. For this analysis, the highest of the three was selected and defined as the maximum FAR. The built FAR is defined in the MapPLUTO dataset (see right). There are three classifications of lots shown in the map:

  1. Available FAR: lots with available air rights. Available FAR is defined as maximum FAR minus Built FAR. If the result is greater than zero, the tax lot is classified as having available FAR.
  2. No Available FAR: lots that are fully built out to their allowed FAR and have no air rights that could be purchased. Some buildings may exceed their allowed FAR; for example, a building may have been built before the current zoning was passed.

Because there are additional ways of purchasing air rights (namely, Landmark Transfers and Special Purpose District Transfers), these maps do not represent the full extent of how air rights can purchased. Similarly, these maps do not account for height and setback controls, which would limit the size of a building in certain districts. Nor is there any guarantee that because air rights are available, a zoning lot merger could be assembled or would be supported by the market.

Interactive NYC Air-Rights Map can be found at Crain’s.

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11 thoughts on “Everything you ever wanted to know about NYC air rights*!

  1. mike

    This looks like a great resource, and many thanks to MAS for putting it out there.
    Some questions for the experts:
    1. This shows tax lots with available FAR, but there’s nothing here showing zoning lots or, more importantly, merged zoning lots. It would be helpful to see the merged zoning lots.
    2. I understand tax lots and zoning lots are not the same thing, and merged zoning lots can retain their original tax lot structure. Am I wrong about that?
    3. Is it possible that any of these tax lots showing up as having available FAR have already been merged into a merged zoning lot?
    4. ‘Facility’ FAR is coming up on many of these tax lots as the largest available FAR. I presume this means ‘Community Facility’ as defined in the Zoning. However, many sites, say a townhouse in a landmarked district, cannot take advantage of this community facility FAR. Are they able to transfer these rights even though they can’t use them on their own site?
    5. If ‘Community Facility’ FAR is the most FAR available and results in a transferable surplus, does the buyer of that FAR have to build a community facility with that FAR? Is the transferred FAR fungible?

  2. Shawnee Swinton

    I’m looking for information and assistance on how to determine if our church in Brooklyn has air rights and if so how much air rights do we have.

    1. Hallmark Abstract ServiceHallmark Abstract Service Post author

      Hi Shawnee:

      If you would like I can introduce you to a commercial real estate broker who specializes in Brooklyn and who I am sure can either help you directly or refer you to someone who can.

      Let me know if that works.


    2. Michael

      No offense, most brokers can’t calculate development rights. I assembled 70,000 SF. You need an architect and a land use attorney. It’s not just taking your footprint and doing the math. You need to lok at the specific consitions. I’m just a year late…

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