West Chelsea

Old Howard Beach, Hamilton Beach and Broad Channel

West Chelsea, along the Hudson River and between West 14th and West 29th streets in Manhattan’s Community Board 4, was severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy, and also has a distinctive concentration of arts and cultural uses, unique built character and economic vitality. As part of the Resilient Neighborhoods initiative, the Department of City Planning has been working with the community in West Chelsea to identify a set of tools that address resiliency challenges specific to the neighborhood’s built fabric and land uses. This study focuses on a targeted review of zoning and retrofitting regulations, and provides guidelines for adapting buildings and promoting an engaging resilient streetscape.

View the PDF Document summary report on West Chelsea.

Visit the West Chelsea Neighborhood Risk Atlas.

View the PDF Document Resilient Arts Spaces guide.

During the course of the Resilient Neighborhoods study, DCP engaged with Manhattan Community Board 4, local businesses, non-profit and for-profit industry professionals, elected officials, and other City agencies to plan for the long-term resiliency and vibrancy of West Chelsea. Staff met with members of the Landmarks Preservation Commission and Department of Cultural Affairs to share objectives and synchronize related efforts. In addition, DCP conducted an extensive survey of 60 galleries and several retail shops and arts-related businesses in the neighborhood.

West Chelsea, largely built on lower-lying filled land, is significantly vulnerable to coastal flooding. Grade changes across different cross-sections of the study area contribute to varied levels of exposure. The westernmost blocks as well as the gallery district, south of West 23rd Street, experienced higher surge levels during Hurricane Sandy. Other areas tend to have relatively lower Base Flood Elevations, between two and four feet above grade. However, with the prevalence of active ground floor uses, basements and cellars, even low flood elevations can pose considerable challenges. While there are few instances of buildings in West Chelsea with ground floor residential use, units at this level of occupation could be lost when retrofitting to required floodproofing standards.

Following Sandy, with the issuance of new federal flood maps in December 2013, the number of properties in the 1-percent annual chance floodplain in West Chelsea increased by 55 percent. The expanded floodplain includes approximately two-thirds of the Special West Chelsea District comprising a wide range of building types and portions of the LPC-designated historic districts with contributing loft and row house buildings. The 2013 Citywide Flood Text Amendment was adopted on a temporary basis to allow new development and modifications to existing buildings across the city to meet federal resilient construction standards. However, there are ongoing West Chelsea-specific challenges to meeting these resiliency requirements while maintaining the neighborhood’s active streetscapes and historic character.

The West Chelsea Resiliency Framework, shown below, was developed by DCP in coordination with local stakeholders and other City agencies to promote flood mitigation and adaptation strategies that lower risk to the urban building stock, while maintaining characteristics such as active ground floors and vibrant, walkable streets. The framework responds to distinct challenges and opportunities found in West Chelsea, including regulatory considerations and retrofitting challenges, as well as the inherent structural strengths of the existing built conditions. These strategies together ensure that the West Chelsea community has the tools to remain strong and flourish.

West Chelsea Framework
West Chelsea Framework

Special West Chelsea District
DCP has reviewed how flood-damaged properties and future developments have been able to implement resiliency improvements under current zoning, in a way that is reflective of existing built character and complements the goals and original intent of the Special West Chelsea District.

LPC-Designated Historic Districts
DCP has coordinated with the Landmarks Preservation Commission to encourage retrofit strategies that safeguard the historic integrity of buildings in the LPC-Designated Historic Districts.

Gallery District
DCP is supporting the continued presence of galleries in West Chelsea and promoting their long-term resilience by providing guidance on retrofitting and flood mitigation strategies.

The Resilient Neighborhoods Initiative is part of a broad range of efforts by the City to recover from Hurricane Sandy, promote rebuilding and increase the city’s resilience to climate-related events, including coastal flooding and storm surge.  Recommendations from this program will be developed in close consultation with area stakeholders and will coordinate with other initiatives, including:

For more information contact: ResilientManhattan_DL@planning.nyc.gov