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Plan to Build Up Chelsea Market Has Some Up in Arms

Plan to Build Up Chelsea Market Has Some Up in Arms

The New York Times 5/4/2011


Chelsea Market, the old Nabisco bakery complex that was transformed into a hip food arcade and office building in the 1990s, has served as a neighborhood anchor as the surrounding area turned from a faded industrial wasteland to a haven for galleries, fashion houses, technology firms and flashy apartment houses.

Now plans by the owner of Chelsea Market, which stretches from 9th Avenue to 10th Avenue between 15th and 16th Streets, to stack towers on top of the east and west ends of the red-brick complex have some residents up in arms.

Under the still-nascent plan, the owner, Jamestown Properties, would add a glass block of roughly eight stories, with 250,000 square feet of office space, above 10th Avenue. On 9 Avenue, the company would erect a 12-story, 90,000-square-foot boutique hotel over the two-story Buddakan restaurant.

“I live in a penthouse, the highest old penthouse in Chelsea, and if you look out there is a forest of new buildings in the neighborhood,” Justin Hoy, a 65-year-old lawyer, said at a public meeting of Community Board 4 on Wednesday night. “When I moved in 25 years ago, there was a clear view north and south on the river. Now it’s just skyscrapers.”

Jamestown, which has been taken aback by the uproar, is seeking a zoning variance that would allow it to build atop the existing complex. It also wants Chelsea Market included in the Special West Chelsea Zoning District, which now begins a block to the north.

Jamestown would then be required to contribute about $17 million to the city for long-term improvements to the High Line, which passes through the western edge of Chelsea Market. As a consequence, Friends of the High Line, the nonprofit group that raises money for the High Line, the elevated railroad track that has been turned into a popular park, has been an enthusiastic supporter of the proposal. Critics, however, question why the group is promoting development.

“The most popular building in Chelsea is the Chelsea Market,” said Robert Trentlyon, a recently retired community board member and a resident of West Chelsea since 1965. “To have this happen is insane.”

Lesley Doyel, co-president of Save Chelsea, a community group that organized residents to speak against the proposal at the meeting Wednesday, said she only learned of the plans in December and did not get any details until her group forced the Department of City Planning to release documents under the state’s freedom of information laws.

The owners of Chelsea Market, however, have been exploring an expansion with city officials since 2007. The community board’s Chelsea Preservation and Planning Committee held a forum on the proposal in April 2008, although the issue faded when the economy fell into a recession. The committee held another forum in March. Regardless, any proposal would have to go through the city’s land use review process, which includes a series of reviews by the community board, the City Planning Department and the City Council.

Frank Marino, a spokesman for Jamestown, said that any expansion would be compatible with the neighborhood.