New York Observer
September 5, 2012
By Matt Chaban
Much of the debate around the expansion of the Chelsea Market has centered around not the former Nasbisco factory turned popular shopping center (and subsequent tourist attraction), but the old railroad trestle next to it.
Part of the justification for expanding the market by 25 percent was that, in addition to providing construction jobs and new office space for the city’s booming tech sector, the developer of the project, Jamestown Properties, would pay about $19 million to the High Line, to help fund ongoing maintenance. But there was also great community outcry over the fact that much of the new addition would be built on the 10th Avenue side of Chelsea Market, directly overhanging the High Line.
Earlier today, the City Planning Commission unanimously approved the project’s expansion, and addressed a few of these concerns. The 10th Avenue addition will now be set back from the High Line, stepping back like a wedding cake as it rises, providing more air and light over the elevated park.
But the agreement was not a total victory for the Friends of the High Line, who are desperate for funds to keep the expensive park in shape. As a salve to community concerns about affordable housing, roughly one-third of the $19 million Jamestown had promised to the park will go instead into an affordable housing fund, which can be spent on projects in the neighborhood.
“We are gratified by the City Planning Commission’s thoughtful and balanced approach in consideration and approval of Jamestown’s application to expand the Chelsea Market,” Michael Phillips, Jamestown’s COO and project manager on the expansion, said in a statement. “With the leadership of Commission Chair Amanda Burden, the commission has modified the application to allow for some of the funds generated through a zoning bonus to be used for affordable housing, an approach that follows the road map set forth by the community board.”
The board tentatively approved the project earlier this summer, raising questions about its size and a lack of affordable housing. They also fought against the possible inclusion of a hotel in an expansion planned over Budakkan on the Ninth Avenue side of the project, a concern echoed by Borough President Scott Stringer when he voted against the Chelsea Market expansion in July. He also lobbied for the project to be moved away from the High Line, though he preferred moving all of it to Ninth Avenue.
As part of the agreement to win approval from the commission, Jamestown agreed to remove a hotel from its plans. It also reduced the height of the Ninth Avenue addition. That piece will now rise to 135 feet, even with the neighboring roofline of the market, rather than to a height of 160 feet.
As for the setbacks on 10th Avenue, they begin at the top of the market where the new addition is pushed back 15 feet, followed by another 10 feet when the new section reaches 185 feet, with a few more setbacks from there up to a final height of 230 feet. That is shorter than the neighboring Caledonia condo building though still taller than a number of the neighboring industrial buildings.
Altogether, the modifications reduce the expansion’s overall size from 325,000 new square feet to roughly 285,000 square feet. The market currently contains about 1.2 million square feet of office and retail space.
“With these modifications, I believe this will be a great addition to the West Chelsea neighborhood,” Commissioner Burden said before the commission voted unanimously to approve the project. “The additional office space will serve what has become a destination for creative and technology industries, and this new development will provide critical amenities to the High Line.”
Despite the funding cut, Friends of the High Line also applauded the project’s approval. “The City Planning Commission made a number of thoughtful changes to various aspects of the plan,” Friends co-founder Robert Hammond said in an email. “We are pleased with the way the plan is moving forward, and we will continue to work with the community.”
While polling has found general support for the expansion in the city, some locals still oppose the addition. “It’s fiddling with the margins,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “When you look at how much West Chelsea has been upzoned in the past 10 years, more than any other community, when you add to that an upzoning of one of New York City’s most beloved landmarks, it just adds insult to injury.”
He said the affordable housing contributions are “a sham” because, like a kitty set aside from the 2005 rezoning of the neighborhood, into which these new funds will also be deposited, none of the money has so far been spent. Though that is more a problem for the city than Jamestown.
He vowed to continue fighting the expansion at the City Council, where it will be taken up in the next two months ahead of its likely approval. The project lies in Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s district, who has found herself stuck between addressing the concerns of her neighborhood base in Chelsea and the demands of the real estate industry, who appear to favor her as their candidate in next year’s mayoral elections. How she threads the needle on this project will be interesting to see.