The country’s very first zoning resolution was adopted in New York City in 1916. Called the “Building Zone Plan,” the new regulations dictated building use and physical characteristics, such as set-backs, to organize development of a burgeoning City. In 1961, the zoning resolution was overhauled to what is today the primary land use document of the City. The new plan addressed the realities of population growth and encouraged public amenities, such as public plazas as an incentive for bonus floor area. The Zoning Resolution is a living document amended frequently in order to address the City’s needs and unforeseen changes as they arise. Approximately 1/3 of the City has been rezoned since the 1961 Zoning Resolution to support and encourage smart development of the City’s diverse and ever-changing neighborhoods, due in part to the oversight and commitment of the City Planning Commission. The Commission was established by the 1936 Charter to plan for the City’s orderly growth and development. It was the City’s first permanent planning agency with the authority to draft and amend zoning regulations and create master plans. Before its creation, land use was loosely administered by zoning laws that fell short of a comprehensive plan, Board of Estimate decisions, and political forces.
The City Planning Commission held its first meeting on December 31, 1937 to informally discuss organization of the Commission. The Commission held its first hearing on January 19, 1938 and discussed acquisitions, sewer construction, and street improvements. Since then, the Commission has presided over numerous ground-breaking developments, including the Lever House in 1952, a first-of-its-kind, mostly glass facade skyscraper with no setbacks and a public plaza as its base. The Lever House is one of the most oft-imitated skyscrapers in the country.
In 1989, a panel charged with rewriting the NYC Charter recommended that the Commission have a central role over land use, taking over the powers previously held by the Board of Estimate. Subsequently, the Board of Estimate was eliminated and the Commission was expanded from 7 to 13 commissioners by the 1989 NYC Charter. Seven commissioners including the Chair are appointed by the mayor, one commissioner is appointed by each Borough President, and finally, one commissioner is appointed by the Public Advocate. Each commissioner serves staggered five-year terms, while the Chair serves at the mayor’s discretion.
In 2002, Amanda M. Burden was appointed by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to Chair the Commission and serve as Director of the Department of City Planning. The current commissioners are Kenneth J. Knuckles, Angela M. Battaglia, Rayann Besser, Irwin G. Cantor, Alfred C. Cerullo, Betty Y. Chen, Michelle de la Uz, Maria M. Del Toro, Joseph Douek, Richard W. Eaddy, Anna Hayes Levin, and Orlando Marin. Under Chair Burden’s direction, the Commission has overseen some of the City’s most innovative and historical land use actions including the Hudson Yards rezoning, a comprehensive master plan for Downtown Brooklyn, the West Chelsea/High Line Plan, and Vision 2020.