A group of Long Island organizations has completed the labor-intensive task of compiling zoning data across the region's more than 100 towns, villages and cities to create an online Long Island Zoning Atlas.
The result is a map that shows the vast majority of Long Island allows for single-family homes, while new multifamily housing is allowed in only a slim fraction of those areas.
The atlas shows single-family housing can be built on 89% of Long Island’s land area, excluding environmentally protected zones.
Most of those areas allow homes to be built "as-of-right," which means no additional government approval is needed to build. Local governments allow two-family homes on about 8.5% of zoned land either as-of-right or require a public hearing.
WHAT TO KNOW
- A new online atlas combines zoning information for the more than 100 Long Island towns, villages and cities.
- The data shows that single-family homes can be built on the vast majority of land, while multifamily housing is allowed in just a slim fraction of those areas.
- The creators of the Long Island Zoning Atlas said it is intended to encourage conversations about future housing development in the region.
But housing for three families or more, including apartment buildings, is allowed on just 3.6% of land. That means apartment buildings are prohibited on more than 96% of the zoned land on Long Island, according to the atlas.
“The majority of Long Islanders want to see new homes,” said Gwen O'Shea, president and CEO of Community Development Long Island, citing polling from earlier this year. “And when I say new homes, it’s important to note that this tool isn’t meant to prescribe or dictate a type of housing or size of housing. It’s meant to provide information so meaningful conversations can take place.”
The atlas is the result of a coalition of groups including Community Development Long Island, the Rauch Foundation, Long Island Community Foundation and CUNY Graduate Center. It was modeled after a proposed National Zoning Atlas and the Connecticut Zoning Atlas, which came out in 2021.
The effort involved compiling zoning information from more than 100 towns, villages and cities across Long Island, including some with zoning maps that only existed on paper, and combining them into the atlas. It originated as a project for interns at CDLI and the Regional Plan Association during the pandemic, with the students helping to compile the needed data on more than 1,200 zoning districts.
The atlas allows users to see the zoning, as well as the current land use, which might include grandfathered multifamily housing that is no longer allowed under today’s rules.
Housing advocates “will be able to go to the map and say, for example, ‘Look, there are currently two-plus family homes in this community and they’re doing perfectly well. The zoning doesn’t allow any more of them,' ” said Steven Romalewski, mapping service director at the CUNY Graduate Center for Urban Research, which created the interactive map.
Zoning rules vary among different local governments. Long Island’s cities and the unincorporated parts of its 13 towns make up most of its land area, and zoning statistics there hewed closely to the Islandwide averages.
Long Island’s villages have more restrictive zoning rules. Single-family housing is allowed in nearly 94% of areas, while the percentages are 6.7% for two-family housing and 3.3% for housing for three families or more.
More than half of the Island’s incorporated villages, 55 out of 96, only allow single-family homes.
“It illuminates the fact there are so few acres zoned as-of-right for multifamily, which is something I think anecdotally we all understood, but this kind of puts a finer point on how few locations are zoned as-of-right,” said Sean Sallie, a former deputy planning commissioner for Nassau County who is now director of planning and development at Heatherwood Luxury Rentals in Commack.
Sallie called the atlas a “game changer,” noting it will be a valuable tool for developers.
“Developers want to go where they’re wanted,” he said. “Nobody wants to waste money, time etc., so to understand within five minutes viewing this map which communities are going to be receptive, that can go a long way to whether a development happens there or a developer takes its capital and develops elsewhere.”
Sallie also noted how valuable the atlas is for local planners to have an online resource with zoning information across different municipalities. He said it could make local planning and review of potential zoning changes more efficient. It could also make it easier for towns and villages to see how other areas they wish to emulate are handling zoning.
RuthAnne Visnauskas, commissioner of New York State Homes and Community Renewal, told Newsday she appreciated the groups’ effort to provide more information to Long Islanders.
“Any chance we can get to be more transparent about zoning and housing helps communities make decisions about their future and growth,” she said.
The map also includes information on special assessment districts, such as sanitation and sewer districts, to provide context that could help determine whether an area is suitable for development.
State Sen. Jack Martins, a Republican who previously served as the mayor of Mineola, said many of the zoning codes on Long Island were developed after World War II and haven’t been reviewed in decades. The state could provide resources for communities to reevaluate their zoning codes, he said.
Martins said the atlas could be an important tool for communities to evaluate the best places for housing. "The concern I have is that you open up the opportunity for people who are not in that community to try and interject opinions about what other people should do.”
Martins added: “There’s general consensus ... that we need more diversity in our housing stock. The question is showing these communities, in a collaborative way, not a top-down approach, that there are resources available to them should they choose to go that direction.”
The atlas follows previous tools, such as the Long Island Index, which published data on regional issues, such health education and the economy, starting in 2004. Newsday acquired the Long Island Index in 2018 and created nextLI, a project of the Newsday editorial pages, which publishes research to help solve challenges facing the region.
The Long Island Zoning Atlas received funding support from the Association for a Better Long Island, Bank United, CDLI, the Long Island Association, Long Island Builders Institute, the Long Island Community Foundation, the Mercatus Center, Nassau County IDA, Rauch Foundation and Suffolk County Economic Development Corporation.
The Town of Brookhaven has committed funding to support maintenance and enhancements to the atlas through 2025.