Commercial Overlay Explained NYC Zoning

by | Last updated Jun 2, 2020 | Published on Aug 28, 2016 | NYC Zoning

A commercial overlay in NYC is an area located in a residential zoning district that allows for commercial use. You can have a commercial building or mixed use building in a residential zone. These uses are usually retail, restaurants, bakeries, beauty salons, small offices, etc…


Commercial Overlay In Residential Zoning NYC

Since commercial overlays are in primarily residential neighborhoods they often result in mixed use buildings depending on the zoning. Or one to two story commercial spaces. In these districts you have three options:

  1. Residential Building
  2. Commercial Building
  3. Mixed Use Building


Build a Residential Building (Option 1)

You are not required to build a commercial building in a commercial overlay within a residential zoning district. So if you want to ignore the commercial aspect just build a regular residential building. For example, one of our clients had a property in Bushwick, Brooklyn that was in an R6 Residential Zone with a C2-3 Commercial Overlay. This client had no interest in the commercial use of the building so we designed a building as per typical R6 Zoning. See another post if you want to learn more about R6 Zoning. 

Build a Commercial building (Option 2)

You have the choice of only building a commercial building with a retail store for example. If this is the case you need to follow the zoning regulations for the commercial overlay. Let’s use the example of the Bushwick project we mentioned. The building is in an R6 with a C2-3 zoning.

R6 with Quality Housing Program on a wide street has an FAR of 3

C2-3 Zoning has an FAR of of 2 when in an R6 Zoning district.  You have to use this FAR to determine the building square footage if it is only a commercial building.

If you do a building with only commercial you would have an FAR of 2 not 3. The commercial building would result in a smaller building than the residential.

Build a Mixed Use Building (Option 3)

As per NYC zoning a mixed use building is any building that has residential and another use in it. In residential districts with commercial overlays you can build mixed use buildings. The residential use has to be above the commercial portion.

In order to determine the FAR of a mixed use building you choose the higher of the 2 FARs.

If the Residential FAR is 3 and the Commercial FAR is 2 the the entire mixed use building can be 3. Since the Commercial is the smaller use it cannot exceed an FAR of 2. You can build the commercial less than its max FAR but you cannot build more than 2.

Commercial Overlay Zoning Districts:

In R1R5 with the exception of R5B The FAR for a commercial overlay is always 1.

In R5b and R6 – R10 The FAR for a commercial overlay is always 2.

The specific commercial uses permitted change depending on the commercial overlay bellow is a list of all commercial overlay districts. Remember these are all located within a residential districts. They may have parking requirements depending on size and use.


NYC Commercial Overlay

NYC Commercial Overlay Map Example


Commercial Overlay Zoning

As an architect I study Zoning Codes closely, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article we reviewed some of the basic concepts with regards to Commercial Overlay Zoning. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.


Thank You for reading our blog post on NYC Commercial Overlay Zoning.

I hope this was helpful. If you want to discuss a specific project with an architect please feel free to contact us directly.


Contact Fontan Architecture


Jorge Fontan
Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.

  • Great article. Zoning is really complex. If I have a community use school (Use Group 3), is a building that is zoned R8A/J considered As-Of-Right, i.e. no special permit or variance required? Also, the community facility FAR is 6 but the site is located on a wide street one block off Jerome Ave in the Bronx. My understanding is that this adds an additional 1.2 in FAR. Can you confirm this? Thanks.

  • Alan says:

    Hi Jorge,
    Thanks a lot for your article on zoning analysis. It helps a lot. I have a small questions regarding the zoning. I was wondering if you could shed some light on that. Thanks.

    We are going to acquire a lot about 20,000sf in Bronx. it is a irregular shape double street frontage lot with width of 76ft and depth about 300ft. One street in front of the lot is wide street, the other is narrow. It is a R6 overlay with C1-2. The residential FAR for wide street is 3 FAR and for narrow is 2.2FAR. The commercial FAR is 2. My questions are 1, How we calculate the buildable sf of the lot? 2, the overlay for C1-2 is only 150ft depth. how we calculate the commercial FAR? Multiply the lot size by 2FAR? or only calculate the 76*150*2. When we build the commercial base, can we build on the non-commercial overlay part of the lot? Thanks!


  • 74dB says:

    Hi Jorge, your insights are very valuable to this community. We are looking at purchasing a 25.25×80 interior lot in a R6A/C2-4 with an existing mixed use building. Do you think we could extend the lower commercial portion to fully cover the lot?

  • david corell says:

    Hello Jorge, thank you very much for your post. I will appreciate if you can clarify my doubts, I want to buy a property on a R8 zone (FAR 6) C2-5 overlay. It is a 3 story office building, small plot, 25×32, so 788 sq. ft.
    Is it possible to redevelop, just residential, maybe 1 parking on Ground Floor, using that FAR 6? So, if I do a residential development there, Do I have 4,728 buildable square foot?

    Please let me know

    Thank you very much

  • Dean Tyler says:

    Hi Jorge, Very informative answers. I am looking at a lot with a fallow building on it that I would be demolishing and starting over. The lot is small, 20 x 60, in an R7A district with a C2-4 overlay. It also lies within an optional Inclusionary Housing Zone. I hope I have figured this right, with the R7A would give me a 4.0 FAR with up to 2.0 FAR being used for commercial. If I were to devote 20% of the residential to “affordable” as designated in the Inclusionary program, would my total allowable FAR increase by 33% to 5.333 (6400 sq ft based on the 1200sf lot)?

    Also what are the lot coverage restrictions with a mixed use building. To get the Commercial far of 2.0 can I do complete lot coverage for the first 2 stories and then set back the residential?

  • Akash says:

    Hello Jorge,

    Can total commercial building like hotel can be done on R7X, C2-4 if its right by interstate highway?

    • jorgefontan says:

      It depends. C2-4 has some restrictions on hotels. Look at another post I have on hotel zoning. We would have to see if it qualifies. The Floor Area Ratio for commercial will be 2 that means you take the area of the property and multiply by 2 that will be the floor area of the hotel. The FAR for residential is 5 or 6 depending if there is inclusionary housing in your zoning. You cannot use that much for hotel.

  • NAS says:

    Thank you for your forum. It’s very helpful.

    I have two adjacent lots of equal size. 26.66 x 100.92. R7D with C1-5 overlay. Res.FAR=4.2, Comm.FAR=2. It’s on a narrow street (<75 ft – Q1: actually, is the measurement taken from lot-to-lot across the street from each other or from curb-to-curb? ) . One of two lots closest to the corner, has two lots between it and Lexington Avenue. These two lots measure a total of 38.33 ft before reaching the corner at Lexington Avenue. So both my lots are close to the corner Q2: Am I exempt from the rear yard req. because of this or by reason of the C1-5 overlay? Q3: If not, can I instead build the first floor over the entire lot (as commercial) and use it's roof as open space for the residential units above the ground floor store? Q4: Finally, do you round up or down when finding the integer for dwelling units?

    Thank you for your time.

  • Robert H says:

    In an R7A district with a C1-5 commercial overlay, is it the residential district that determines the lot coverage and rear yard requirements? That is my understanding, which means there’s a limit to the depth you can build a first floor commercial space. I’ve looked closely at the Zoning Resolution but the answer is not perfectly clear.

    • jorgefontan says:

      The commercial portion of the building will follow commercial zoning regulations for C1-5 and the residential portion will follow Quality housing regulations for R7A.

      • Ivan Ilyashov says:

        Hello Jorge,

        I have a situation similar to Robert. I’m considering a 20′ x 100′ property in an R7B district with a C1-4 commercial overlay on an 8′ x 100′ portion of the site. Any advantages to having this commercial overlay?

        • jorgefontan says:

          You can contact us directly and provide the address so we can discus it. Most likely the commercial FAR will be limited here.

  • Vishal says:


    I have a 45×25 lot zoned R6 with a commercial overlay of C2-3. I would like to develop a mixed use building and build out the 1st floor as a commercial space from back to front and side to side of the lot lines but using less than the available commercial FAR of 2.0 while I would like to use the quality housing FAR of 2.2 to build 2 X 2 bedroom apartments above the commercial space using a set-back from the 2nd floor. I would like to build either 2 single floor 2 bedroom residential unit on the 2nd and 3rd floor or a duplex 2 bedroom unit on the 3rd and 4th floor. Is this possible on this lot size?

    Appreciate your advice



    • jorgefontan says:


      Your lot is very small. In fact it is under the minimum lot size of 1,700 square feet (R6 minimum). You will have restrictions on this property. I think I would like to see the property survey before I say any more.

  • Sol Kopelowitz says:

    Hello Jorge,
    Thank you for providing all of this information. I have a lot that is C1-3 in R5 district. Am I correct in saying that total Residential FAR is 1.25 plus .75 facility bonus to be used as facility? Does the commercial zoning become completely irrelevant? If the building would be used as both a community facility and residential units how would that play into my parking requirements?

    • jorgefontan says:


      The Residential FAR for R5 is 1.25 unless you qualify for Infill Zoning.
      The community facility FAR is 2
      So if you do a residential building its a max of 1.25
      If you do mixed us its a max of 2 and residential can be up to 1.25 or less.
      commercial would be 1 and would be subtracted from the total if you choose to do commercial otherwise just ignore the commercial overlay.
      I have another post you may be interested in on R5 Zoning

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