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.
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. View the zoning reference chart.