Adding a Community Facility to your NYC Multifamily Development and why it could be a Great Idea
Updated: Mar 4, 2019
A community facility is a for-profit or non-for-profit service created for the benefit of the surrounding community. The most common categories for community facilities are education, health, and religion.
A community facility could be any of the following:
-Long term care facility
-Non-profit or voluntary hospital and related hospital staff dwelling
-Philanthropic institution with dwelling accommodations
-Outpatient health care center
-Clubs including adult physical establishment
-House of worship
-Non-commercial recreation center
-Open uses including agriculture, cemeteries, golf courses, tennis courts, ice rinks, etc.
Note that a community facility is not a recreation space for the exclusive use of the residential building residents. In NYC the term recreation space refers to a required space in a multifamily building that is designed under the Quality Housing Program; see NYC Zoning Resolution Article II, Chapter 8.
Community facilities are often built in residential buildings, known as mixed-use buildings. The community facility in such buildings is a totally separate use. It is run independently from the residential portion of the building and serves anyone in the community.
A community facility may not be commercial. While health centers or schools have obvious commercial elements to them the NYC Zoning Resolution distinguishes between commercial uses to community facility uses. Retail uses such as coffee shops, dry-cleaners, barber shops, grocery stores etc. are considered commercial. Many feel that a Starbucks could contribute to the vibrancy of a community, but it is not a permitted use under the provisions of a community facility.
Where is a Community Facility Permitted and where is it Most Common?
Community facilities are permitted in all residential districts. Depending on the type of community facility and the residential zoning district some regulations vary. In this article we focus on the most common context for the establishment of community facilities and the applicable as-of-right framework.
Most community facilities are found in the higher density residential districts known as R6-R10 and follow the Quality Housing Program. Community facilities rely on being accessible for pedestrian living within walking distance and on visitors arriving by means of public transportation. Higher density districts have more favorable parking requirements and often parking is not required at all. That makes the inclusion of community facilities much more viable for developers.
Floor Area Incentive for Community Facility Development
NYC encourages the development of community facilities by allowing for a higher floor area ratio (FAR) on the zoning lot, or in simpler words, by allowing more square footage on the same lot.
I.e. a developer in the residential district R8 may choose to develop an all residential building to a maximum FAR of 6.02 or increase the FAR up to 6.5 to include a community facility.
In this example one may develop the entire 6.5 FAR as a community facility. However, the maximum residential FAR remains 6.02 which is governed by Article II, Chapter 3 of the Zoning Resolution. If one chooses to maximize the residential FAR of 6.02 the maximum community facility would be 0.48 FAR. That is the difference between the maximum permitted FAR for a building with a community facility minus the maximum permitted FAR for the residential portion of the building.
Is it Always a Good Idea to Include a Community Facility?
Main street locations are better as for many types of community facilities visibility is an important factor. However, as one of our clients with a community facility on a side street said “It’s like getting free space from the city”. He added “if I can rent it, it will boost our income significantly, and if not I am still not losing anything”.
There are many project-specific factors and the statement above is not always true. I.e. when the building bulk is limited by choice for 9 stories to avoid the construction of a major building (10 stories or more) then the FAR used for the development of the mixed-use building could be less than the maximum permitted for an all-residential building and so adding a community facility means that the area used for the community facility is taken away from the residential area, resulting in less apartments.
Are There Special Lot Coverage Provisions for Community Facilities?
In high-density zoning districts community facilities can be built over the entire site up to a height of 23’ above grade level. Article II, Chapter 4 of the NYC Zoning Resolution limits the community facility lot coverage, but up to the height of 23’ is excluded from the definition of lot coverage. These design guidelines allow for a two story community facility over the entire lot but depending on the size, type, and location of the community facility adding a 2nd story may or may not be feasible.
If a community facility is built to a height of more than 23’, the stories above must comply with the lot coverage provisions of Article II, Chapter 4 of the NYC Zoning Resolution.
In mixed-use buildings required open space for residential purposes can be provided above the roof of a community facility structure that extends to the rear lot line on the 1st and sometimes 2nd floor as described above.
The space above the roof of a community facility structure is often used to provide the required recreation space for multifamily buildings designed under the Quality Housing Program.
About the Author
Boaz M. Golani, owner at BMG Architect is a registered architect in the State of NY. He graduated from the Cooper Union School of Architecture in Lower Manhattan in 2005 and built his career focusing on residential architecture in NYC and the Tri-State area since then for almost 15 years.
Email or call Mr. Golani with inquiries regarding new multifamily and mixed-use buildings in NYC. We would love to help!
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