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Chelsea Market Expansion Plan Angers Neighborhood Activists

Chelsea Market Expansion Plan Angers Neighborhood Activists 5/4/2011

By Tara Kyle

A proposal to raise the roof of Chelsea Market is continuing to incite activists in the neighborhood.

They distributed flyers at Wednesday night’s meeting of Community Board 4, asking residents to “Save Chelsea Market” from developer Jamestown Properties’ plan, unveiled last month, to add a 150-foot hotel and 250-office tower to the property.

“Money is great, isn’t it? It’s not the only score card we can live on,” said Stephen Jobes, an acting coach who 30 years ago worked as the night watchman at Chelsea Market. “It is a rich building… We hope that all of you will find the spirit to stand against the market and for quality of life.”

The plan to expand Chelsea Market would require a change to the city’s zoning of the block to include it in the Special West Chelsea District, which oversees the reuse and restoration of the High Line.

In exchange, Jamestown would donate millions to the High Line Improvement Fund, which the city uses to finance long-term maintenance and capital improvements to the park.

The project’s supporters point to the benefits to the former rail line, as well as Chelsea Market’s vitality as an economic engine to the neighborhood (the building currently hosts 3,500 jobs across industries including high tech, media and culinary arts, according to a letter recently sent by the developer to CB4).

But opponents argue that an expansion like this one would harm the character of the historic building.

Jamestown asserts that the project will be compatible the aesthetics of the neighborhood and allow Chelsea Market to continue to host a mix of entrepreneurial start-ups alongside bigger businesses.

“As one of the stakeholders responsible for Chelsea’s revitalization, we understand our responsibility as stewards of the neighborhood’s future,” spokesman Frank Marino wrote in a statement on behalf of the developer.

Friends of the High Line, which oversees the elevated park, is supportive of the project, while acknowledging that it is still in the early proposal stages, said spokeswoman Kate Lindquist.

Chelsea Market was not on the agenda for any vote this month at CB4. The next date that the board will likely consider the plan is in the fall, Chair John Weis said, when the project will move through review processes with the Department of City Planning.

But one former member, Robert Trentlyon, urged the board to expedite its consideration of the matter, by asking several committees to closely study the plan.

“It really boggles the mind that any group of people would try to do this to the most popular building in Chelsea,” Trentlyon said.