CHELSEA — A neighborhood forum organized by Chelsea residents Thursday was supposed to be a calm search for compromise on a controversial plan to build a large expansion on top of Chelsea Market, but organizers said that mission was a failure.
Most who spoke at the forum were dead-set against owner Jamestown Properties' proposal to expand the landmark building at 75 Ninth Ave., arguing that it will harm the building's character, price out residents and commercialize their residential neighborhood.
The few supporters of the project argued that the expansion would bring much-needed jobs to the poorer residents, particularly those who live in public housing.
Moderator Karen Smith expressed frustration that neither side could find common ground during the forum at Church of the Holy Apostles.
"They're so divided, they won't come up with a plan," Smith said. "This is going forward no matter what. We might as well take what we can get."
While no formal proposal has been submitted, Jamestown's preliminary plans would add a 250-office glass tower above a section of the market overlooking 10th Avenue, as well as a 12-story, 90,000 square-foot hotel on the Ninth Avenue side, over Buddakan restaurant.
In order to do that, the City Council would have to approve rezoning the area to include it in the Special West Chelsea District, which was set up to accommodate the High Line.
Several residents were upset about the possible influx of office space, targeted at high-tech companies, and voiced fears that Jamestown would build the expansion, then sell Chelsea Market as soon as possible.
"If [companies] need more space, someone will build it for them," said James Jasper, who lives near the market. "But it should be in a neighborhood that already isn't stressed and strained from overdevelopment."
Others criticized a report released last week by consulting firm Appleseed. The report, commissioned by Jamestown, said the market's expansion would help bring approximately $1.6 billion in economic benefits to the city. But those in favor of the expansion said that negotiating with Jamestown could be the community's best shot at securing some of the jobs the market expansion will likely bring for Chelsea residents.
"Everybody's complaining that there is no jobs and the economy is down," said Miguel Acevedo, president of the tenant's association at the Fulton Houses, a housing project in Chelsea. "One of the biggest things that Jamestown is looking to propose in this is to give jobs to this community."
The first public hearings on the project will likely not come until early 2012, but representatives from Jamestown had expressed interest in coming to the forum. Organizers asked them not to attend, saying that the event was a chance for the community to figure out its own position on the expansion.
"Out of respect for the community leaders who are organizing the event and who asked that Jamestown not attend, Jamestown has decided to honor their request and not attend," said Lee Silberstein, a spokesman for the market expansion project, in a statement. "We have always been and continue to be committed to the long-term stewardship of Chelsea Market and to being a good neighbor.”
After expressing her disappointment with the division she saw at the meeting, Smith said she was concerned that the Council would pass the necessary rezoning even if the community is against it, and that their best bet is for Chelsea residents to get what concessions they can from Jamestown before they're given the go-ahead.
"If these people are going to get up and block bulldozers, we might have a chance," she said. "But in the end it's going to be up to [City Council Speaker Christine] Quinn."