Zoning Update

City of Rochester

Rochester, NY

The City of Rochester is seeking proposals from qualified Consultants to assist City staff with updating the City’s Zoning Code, Zoning Map, and Subdivision Code to reflect the Vision, Guiding Principles, and The Placemaking Plan of Rochester 2034, the City’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan (“Plan”). The City seeks to retain a Consultant or Consultant team with experience in developing zoning codes for cities of similar size or larger than Rochester and within a similar market.


The city of Rochester, located on the southern shore of Lake Ontario in western New York, is the seat of Monroe County. With a population of approximately 210,000 people, Rochester is the third most populous city in New York State. From a peak in the late 1950s of about 332,000 people, the city’s population steadily declined for more than five decades. This decline in population followed a national trend in urban depopulation and, like many mid-size post-industrial cities, Rochester lost more than a third of its population. City government has been in the position of managing decline that has impacted the City in every way, including land use.

Now, similarly to what is happening across the nation, Rochester is starting to see a resurgence of popularity and new residents. People, especially seniors and millennials, are drawn to the benefits of city living. In response to the emerging revitalization, Mayor Lovely A. Warren initiated the preparation of Rochester 2034, a 15-year comprehensive plan to promote and guide the City’s revival as it approaches its 200th birthday in 2034. The Plan is the result of intense community and stakeholder engagement, best practice research, and technical practitioner engagement. The Plan is broadly endorsed and was unanimously adopted and celebrated by City Council in November 2019. The full Plan can be accessed at Rochester2034.com.

Growing the population is an overarching goal of Rochester 2034, recognizing the need to build the critical mass of residents and consumers to support small businesses, stabilize the tax base, and revitalize the city. The City aims to prepare a land use planning and regulatory approach that positions the community to welcome and foster new residents and businesses, while preserving and improving quality of life.

In addition to “growing the population,” the other overarching goals illustrated throughout Rochester 2034 include: connecting land use & transportation, placemaking & beautiful public spaces, and social & economic equity. Communities that integrate transportation and land-use, through policies, programs, projects and regulations, are in a better position to create efficient and equitable access to a variety of modes of transportation. Astute land use regulations enable more people to easily walk, bike, and use transit and help create desired livable communities.

Rochester 2034 stresses the importance of placemaking as an important overarching goal to cultivate a strong and unique sense of place for the city of Rochester, and to make it a place where people want to live, work, and play. The design of the community is intimately related to how it is interacted with and experienced. Thoughtful design is important to creating beautiful and vital places where people want to be.

Conventional land use regulations have long contributed to socioeconomic separations in cities. Historically, cities used zoning as a way to separate not only uses — like residential, commercial, and industrial properties—but also people according to wealth, class, and race. As set forth in Rochester 2034, the overarching goal of social and economic equity aims to right the past wrongs and create opportunity and fairness for all people, not just some people. In particular, the City seeks to promote diverse and affordable housing and neighborhood choices.

Rochester 2034 includes a Vision and eleven Guiding Principles to provide broad guidance on the direction for land use policy in Rochester, while The Placemaking Plan (Initiative Area 2 of Rochester 2034) provides specific guidance and direction. This Initiative Area includes numerous strategies intended to create vibrancy through an innovative and holistic approach to community investment. It addresses multiple categories of investment that, when coordinated and leveraged, contribute to healthy neighborhoods and a strong sense of place. These include parks, transportation systems, community facilities, neighborhood planning, and infrastructure with progressive land use policy as the foundation. The Placemaking Plan attempts to strike a balance among orderly growth, regulatory flexibility, and preservation of neighborhood and natural assets.

The future land use component of The Placemaking Plan contains a land use map composed of “Character Areas” that are similar in nature to zoning districts. This map displays categories of various Character Areas as they are recommended to evolve over the next 10 to 15 years. Character Area boundaries are depicted on The Placemaking Plan map with gently curving edges and consistent buffers between adjacent categories. This is meant to graphically reinforce the conceptual and visionary nature of this land use plan. While the Character Areas will direct new zoning district boundaries for the City of Rochester, the final zoning district boundaries will be ultimately defined by the Project. An interactive webmap of all the Character Areas and place-based recommendations included in The Placemaking Plan can be found at Rochester2034.com/home-2/interactive-map.

Chapter 120 of the City Code is the Zoning Code (“Code”). The last comprehensive Code update was in 2003, followed by many incremental modifications over the last seventeen years. Approximately fifteen different zoning districts exist in the Code, each with their own unique set of regulations for uses and development. The Code is a combination of traditional zoning and form-based code, the latter of which is in use for the Center City District, Marina District, and Collegetown Village District. While the form-based approach may not be appropriate for residential districts, The Placemaking Plan recommends consideration of expanding this approach into other mixed-use areas throughout the city.

In addition to potentially expanding the use of form-based code, other directives from Rochester 2034 include, but are not limited to:

  • Promoting greater density along Regional Transit Service (RTS) corridors.
  • Repositioning/rezoning declining commercial corridors.
  • Revising building height minimums and maximums to reflect recommended patterns of development.
  • Allowing built-as commercial buildings to house commercial uses as of right in residential districts and by legalizing existing small commercial areas.
  • Reducing barriers for “pipeline” business development.
  • Advancing diverse housing options, such as creating more opportunity for 2-4-unit residential buildings.
  • Moving toward lot size maximums, based on context, rather than strictly-applied minimums.
  • Moving away from strict parking minimums and allowing flexibility and discretion in the development approval process.
  • Streamlining/incentivizing compliant development proposals.
  • Combining or aligning all city codes that impact land use with the Zoning Code, potentially through the exploration of a Unified Development Code.

Relevant background codes, documents, and references:

  • Rochester 2034 and all of the appendices
  • Chapter 120 City Zoning Code
  • Chapter 128 Land Subdivision Code
  • Chapter 130 Comprehensive Plan
  • Chapter 39 Building Code
  • Chapter 104 Streets and Street Encroachments


Request Type
Tuesday, June 30, 2020