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Projects & Proposals > Manhattan > West Harlem Printer Friendly Version
West Harlem Rezoning - Approved!
Existing Context and Zoning

Overview | Existing Context and Zoning | Proposed Zoning | DEIS | Public Review

Neighborhood character
Originally established as the Village of Niuew Harlem in 1658, West Harlem retained its rural character for over a century, and by the late 1700’s it was becoming a magnet for wealthy estates and country retreats. This trend continued through the 1800’s, though the area’s rural characteristics began to yield to the urbanizing influences of the Croton Aqueduct in 1842, as well as the introduction of elevated rail stops in 1879 and the subsequent development of the IRT subway line in 1904. In fact, most of West Harlem as it stands today was built during the first decades of the 20th century, a built environment consisting of row houses and apartment complexes of a variety of styles, including Beaux Arts, Queen Anne and Romanesque Revival. Soon after, the 1920’s and 1930’s gave rise to an influx of affluent African-American residents. Although the 1950’s and 1960’s marked an era of disinvestment and distress, West Harlem did not sustain the same degree of extreme property abandonment, population loss, vacancy and disinvestment that was experienced in Central and East Harlem.

West Harlem is a vibrant and diverse community collectively comprised of the neighborhoods Hamilton Heights, Sugar Hill and a portion of Manhattanville. The area is distinguished by well-maintained, fully-occupied residential building stock. The neighborhoods are predominately of low- to mid-rise residential character, made up of five- and six-story apartment buildings, three- and four-story brownstones and rowhouses significantly contributing toward West Harlem’s distinct sense of place. Approximately 20% of lot area within the rezoning area (generally the blocks east of Amsterdam Avenue) is located within six New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC)-designated and two New York State-designated historic districts.

Taller buildings above 60 feet are concentrated on the western portion of the rezoning area between Broadway and Riverside Drive; however, certain midblocks (such as along West 138th and West 142nd streets) feature clusters of three- to four-story rowhouses. The central and northern portions (above 140th Street between Broadway and Edgecombe Avenue) are comparatively lower in scale displaying mixed patterns of medium-scaled multiple dwellings and lower-scaled rowhouses. Distinctive three- to four-story brownstones can be found on mid-blocks east of Amsterdam Avenue generally bounded by West 145th to West 148th streets, along the north side of West 142nd Street and along West 138th Street. The northeastern portion of the rezoning area, St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas Place is distinguished mostly by four- to six-story buildings or above.

West 145th Street is the area’s major east-west corridor containing a consistent street wall with buildings of varying heights and character constructed at the street line. Between Broadway and Riverside Drive, West 145th Street contains low-scale residential (north side of the street) and mid-rise residential buildings on the south side. The West 145th Street/Broadway intersection is anchored by active commercial and residential uses (three one- to two-story commercial buildings and a six-story mixed commercial/residential building) that are directly served by the IRT No.1 subway line. Between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, six-story mixed-use buildings, retail shopping, a hotel and a public library are interspersed with a few low-slung, under-developed structures. On the north side of West 145th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, is a vacant public school building, the former P.S. 186. Portions of West 145th Street east of Convent Avenue are located within the Hamilton Heights Historic District and are developed with three-story brownstones, some with active ground floor retail The West 145th Street/St. Nicholas Avenue intersections is served by the IND A, B, C and D lines and contains predominately mid-rise mixed commercial/residential developments.

A small concentration of light industrial and transportation uses exists in the Manhattanville section of the southern edge of the West Harlem area, comprised of portions of four blocks generally bounded by West 126th and West 129th streets, Convent and Amsterdam avenues. The area has a mix of commercial, residential and light industrial uses, including an existing two-story MTA bus depot. Also located in the area is the Mink Building complex, composed of five lots from West 128th to West 129th streets containing buildings of various size and character, as well as light industrial and commercial uses. Vacant buildings within the manufacturing district include the former Taystee Bakery complex that contains a set warehouse buildings in vacant and partially demolished condition. The site was recently the subject of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) by the City to allow for redevelopment pursuant to the West Harlem Rezoning proposal. The City awarded the property to a local developer to advance a 328,000 square foot project containing manufacturing, commercial office, retail and community facility space.

The West Harlem neighborhood is served by a total of seven subway stations: four IND stations along St. Nicholas Avenue including express stops at West 125th Street and West 145th Street (served by A, B, C and D trains), and local stops at West 135th Street (B, C) and West 155th Street (C); two IRT stations along Broadway at West 125th Street and West 137th Street-City College (both served by No. 1 trains); and an IND station at West 155th Street and Eighth Avenue (served by B and D trains). The area is also served by several bus lines that run along West 135th, West 145th and West 155th streets and along all major north-south avenues.


Existing Zoning Map
Existing Zoning Map - PDF Document View a larger image.
Existing Zoning
Currently, the West Harlem Rezoning area generally consists of three broadly-applied zoning districts: R8, R7-2, and M1-1. C1-1 and C2-4 commercial overlay districts are mapped along major retail corridors, including portions of Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue, and West 145th Street. By and large, the current zoning has remained unchanged since 1961 when Zoning Resolution was adopted.

The existing zoning does not reinforce the varied scale and consistent profile of the predominately built-out residential neighborhood – elements that significantly shape to the area’s distinguished neighborhood character. Furthermore, the current zoning in the manufacturing district inhibits expansion of existing properties and limits new development. PDF Document View the zoning reference chart.

R8

North side of West 145th Street between Riverside Drive and Broadway within existing R8 district
North side of West 145th Street between Riverside Drive and Broadway within existing R8 district
south side of West 137th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive within existing R8 district
South side of West 137th Street between Broadway and Riverside Drive within existing R8 district
An R8 zoning district is mapped on the westernmost portion of the rezoning area - along Broadway, Riverside Drive and on mid-blocks within an area generally bounded by Broadway, Riverside Drive, West 135th and West 155th streets. Another smaller R8 zoning district is also mapped on the eastern portions of two blocks bounded by Convent and St. Nicholas avenues between West 126th and West 128th streets.

R8 zoning districts are higher density districts with a maximum residential floor area ratio (FAR) of 6.02 and a maximum community facility FAR of 6.5 FAR. R8 zoning districts are “height factor” zoning districts governed by sky exposure plane regulations and do not have street wall controls or height limits. Midblock brownstone areas, which articulate a strong sense of scale and continuity along a street, are located within existing R8 district where a wide variety of building forms could occur.  Larger lots could be developed with buildings set back from the street and surrounded by open space (“tower in the park” developments) and rising to heights of 18 and 21 stories, sharply contrasting the existing built character. 

Under the optional Quality Housing program, on wide streets outside the Manhattan Core (i.e., Manhattan Community Districts 9 to 12), residential development is permitted up to 7.2 FAR within a maximum contextual building envelope consisting of a base height of 60 to 85 feet, after which a minimum 10-foot setback is required and maximum height limit of 120 feet. The Quality Housing option for narrow streets (or midblocks) outside the Manhattan Core, permits up to 6.02 residential FAR within a maximum contextual building envelope consisting of a base height of 60 to 80 feet, after which a minimum 15-foot setback is required and a maximum height limit of 105 feet. Quality Housing is not required of all development and the current zoning does not provide adequate predictability of building form. In R8 zoning districts, parking is required for 40 percent of the residential units, but may be waived or reduced depending on lot size.

R7-2

Most of the rezoning area, including the majority of the Hamilton Heights neighborhood and the eastern portion of the Manhattanville neighborhood, lies within an R7-2 medium-density residential zoning district that is mapped to the east of Broadway. R7-2 zoning districts allow a maximum residential FAR of 3.44 and a maximum community facility FAR of 6.5 with no street wall controls or height limits. Like R8 districts, R7-2 districts are height factor districts that permit a range of building forms to occur, especially for larger lots. Buildings constructed under height factor zoning could rise between 14 and 16 stories in R7-2 districts - significantly taller than rowhouses in the midblocks that characterize much of the area. Larger buildings such as community facilities could result in future building heights that are unpredictable and out of scale with the prevailing context.

The optional Quality Housing program also applies to R7 districts allowing for a maximum residential FAR of 4.0 along wide streets (3.44 on narrow streets). The maximum contextual building envelope for R7 Quality Housing buildings consists of a base height of 40 to 60 feet (65 feet for wide streets), after which a minimum setback of 15 feet is required (10 feet for wide streets) and maximum height limit of 75 feet (80 feet for wide streets). Like, R8, Quality Housing development is not required, therefore non-contextual buildings of unknown scale and height could occur. Parking is required for 50 percent of residential units, but may be waived or reduced.

North west corner of St. Nicholas Place at West 153rd Street within existing R7-2 district
North west corner of St. Nicholas Place at West 153rd Street within existing R7-2 district
North side of 141st street between Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue within existing R7-2
North side of 141st street between Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue within existing R7-2
South of West 154th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue within an existing R7-2 district
South of West 154th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and St. Nicholas Avenue within an existing R7-2 district

M1-1

In the southern portion of the rezoning area, an M1-1 light manufacturing zoning district is mapped on portions of four blocks generally bounded by West 126th Street, West 129th Street, Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue in Manhattanville (see Figure 2-6). M1-1 zoning districts limits retail, commercial and light manufacturing uses to 1.0 FAR and does not allow residential use. A restricted subset of community facility uses are permitted up to 2.4 FAR. Moreover, M1-1 districts do not have height limits; accordingly, building height and setback are governed by sky exposure plane regulations.

North east corner of West 126th Street and Amsterdam Avenue within existing M1-1 district
North east corner of West 126th Street and Amsterdam Avenue within existing M1-1 district
South side of West 126th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue within existing M1-1 district (former Taystee Bakery)
South side of West 126th Street between Amsterdam Avenue and Convent Avenue within existing M1-1 district (former Taystee Bakery)

C1-4 and C2-4 Commercial Overlays

East side of Broadway between West 147th and West 148th streets within existing R8/C1-4 district
East side of Broadway between West 147th and West 148th streets within existing R8/C1-4 district
Local retail activity is facilitated by C1-4 and C2-4 commercial overlays mapped along portions of Broadway, Amsterdam Avenue, St. Nicholas Avenue, Hamilton Place, West 145th Street, and West 155th Street. C1 and C2 districts are distinguished by slight differences in the range of permitted uses and in parking requirements. As local service districts, C2-4 districts allow a slightly wider range of commercial uses than allowed in C1-4 districts, which primarily allow local retail uses. C1-4 and C2-4 allow commercial use up to 2.0 FAR in R7 and R8 zoning districts; however, in mixed residential/commercial buildings, commercial use is limited to the ground floor. C1-4 and C2-4 districts require 1 parking space per 1,000 square feet of commercial use, which can be waived if less than 40 parking spaces are required.


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Brief explanations of terms in green italics can be viewed by clicking on the term. Words and phrases followed by an asterisk (*) are defined terms in the Zoning Resolution, primarily in Section 12-10. Consult the Zoning Resolution for the official and legally binding definitions of these words and phrases.
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