September 5, 2012
By Mathew Katz
DOWNTOWN – The City Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve a Jamestown Properties plan to expand Chelsea Market on Wednesday, praising the “refined and improved proposal.”
The new plan took on several aspects that both Community Board 4 and Borough President Scott Stringer had pushed for. It significantly reduces the size of both the proposed Ninth and 10th avenue expansions, eliminates an originally planned hotel on Ninth Avenue and, most critically, includes a requirement to keep retail use on the famous main-floor concourse.
But the biggest change to the project was a requirement that the developer shift 30 percent of its proposed $17 million donation to the High Line Improvement Fund – roughly $5.1 million – to affordable housing projects in the neighborhood.
“With these modifications, I believe this will be a great addition to the West Chelsea neighborhood,” said Planning Commission chair Amanda Burden.
“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.”
The proposal would shift the Chelsea Market block into the Special West Chelsea District, a zoning area created to accommodate the construction of the High Line.
Burden herself initially expressed concerns that a large expansion over the High Line would block views of the sky from the elevated park, but seemed satisfied with the changes to the 10th Avenue office space.
The new plan would reduce the expansion over 10th Avenue to 209,000 square feet, down from 240,000, and shift the bulk in from the street – allowing more light to reach the High Line.
Burden described the change as “a significant shift of bulk away from the High Line along 10th Avenue that will greatly improve the feeling of openness from both the north and the south.”
“The City Planning Commission made a number of thoughtful changes to various aspects of the plan,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line.
“We are pleased with the way the plan is moving forward, and we will continue to work with the community.”
The final decision on the zoning change is up to the City Council, with all eyes now on Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents the neighborhood. Quinn has yet to publicly take a position on the project and did not respond to requests for comment.
After the vote, Jamestown Properties celebrated its victory, but was quick to note that its long fight for approval was not yet over.
“We are gratified by the City Planning Commission’s thoughful and balanced approach in the consideration and approval of Jamestown’s application to expand Chelsea Market,” said Michael Phillips, Jamestown’s Chief Operating Officer, in a statement.
“Jamestown looks forward to continuing its discussions with area stakeholders as the plan moves to the next and final phase of the approval process, which is consideration by the New York City Council.”
Opponents were quick to voice their disapproval of the commission’s vote, stating again that any expansion to the historic building is unacceptable.
For nearly a year, several groups opposed to the expansion have argued that the project would add huge traffic and congestion to the neighborhood, drive up rents and hurt Chelsea’s character.
Almost immediately after the vote, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and Save Chelsea, two main opponents, sent a letter to Quinn asking her to prevent the project.
“This is her district, her neighborhood,” said Andrew Berman, GVSHP executive director.
“We’re hopeful she’ll listen to the overwhelming opposition to the project.”