Are Rooftops The Next Frontier?

By Frank Fortino

A key piece of the playbook for developers is to squeeze every inch of usable space out of their projects. A growing trend turns this usability discussion into a key selling point – converting the top of a building into a rooftop bar.

Rooftop bars provide a great vantage point to enjoy the City skyline, they also offer much coveted outdoor space. While originally the provenance of hotels and residential buildings, the trend has turned towards a wider audience, as commercial offices and retailers are embracing the concept. Whether for a relaxed meeting environment, or a place for employees to take a break from the hectic pace – the uses are literally endless.

As expected, the DOB and FDNY have established regulations for use of these outdoor spaces.  Owners and developers should consider both legal use as well as the implications for insurance coverage on such a space. As a first step, it’s critical to make sure that these rooftops and other open spaces have the proper approvals and sign-offs from both the DOB and FDNY.  I recommend that a consultant who is familiar with Zoning and Building Codes assist the owner and review both the Zoning and Code as well as the existing conditions of the building. If the research turns out to be positive, the owner should hire the professionals, architect and engineer to begin the laying out the Code-required elements.

The DOB and FDNY will want to see drawings with the following information:

  • Roof live load to be a minimum of 100 per square foot
  • Floor plans indicating the level of which the proposed outdoor space is located.
  • Two remote means of egress with clear indication of direct, unobstructed paths to the stairs.
  • The path of travel by which the people can exit. The plans need to clearly show the stairs leading to grade.
  • Emergency lighting
  • Illuminated exit signs
  • Handicap accessible
  • Elevator/lift stopping on the occupied level
  • Toilets for the occupants
  • Parapets need to be rised to 5’-0” from the finished roof. Typically the DOB will review the existing conditions.
  • Fire alarm devises – speaker/strobes
  • Proper roof drainage and hose bibs
  • If the roof occupancy is more than 74 persons, a separate public assembly application must be filed.
  • The above information will need to be filed as an Alt. Type I which after approval and work is completed, the Certificate of Occupancy will be amended.

Opening a building’s rooftop clearly takes a lot of thought and planning, and may come at a considerable expense. Yet in a City where air, light and outdoor space are such a rare commodity, it’s a decision that more and more owners are taking.