Chelsea Market Expansion Has to Include Affordable Housing, Board Says

By Mathew Katz on June 1, 2012 1:05pm 

Opponents of a proposed expansion to Chelsea Market silently protest at a meeting on May 31, 2012.
Opponents of a proposed expansion to Chelsea Market silently protest at a meeting on May 31, 2012.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — Despite a sweeping redesign of the proposed Chelsea Market expansion by developers, Community Board 4 voted Thursday not to endorse the project unless the building's owner made a hefty contribution to affordable housing in the rapidly-developing neighborhood.

"It must be accompanied by a significant community benefit," CB4 Chelsea Preservation and Planning Committee co-chair Lee Compton said at the board's Thursday night meeting over the controversial expansion to the building at 75 Ninth Ave.

Community members said they want "the production of a square footage of affordable housing equivalent of 27 percent of the square footage of any new development in the area."

Developer Jamestown Properties' plan to expand the historic market by roughly 300,000 square feet on its Ninth and 10th Avenue sides would require City Council approval to place Chelsea Market into the Special West Chelsea District, a zoning area created to accommodate the High Line.

The committee's proposal effectively ties affordable housing development to the bulk of the building — the bigger the expansion, the more cash Jamestown would have to fork out for it.

The affordable proposal still needs to be approved by the full board, and could be modified or eliminated at any point as the zoning change makes its way to the City Council.

Jamestown has already scaled back its original plans, eliminating a hotel on the Ninth Avenue side and shrinking parts of the 10th Avenue office expansion. The developer also changed the look of the 10th Avenue side from a glass cube — one that many criticized as looking like a space ship — to a brown terracotta facade that's more in line with surrounding buildings.

Building the expansion would also require Jamestown to give a roughly $19 million donation benefiting the High Line.

But at the board's meeting on Thursday, many members said the expansion had to give greater benefits to the community as a whole — such as the proposed affordable housing contributions — if Jamestown expected CB4 to lend their approval the plan at a meeting next week.

"Those things would make this proposal a lot more palatable to me," said CB4 Chair Corey Johnson.

"I hope that in the next six days the applicant will come forward and give the community an actual benefit and not a scale-back."

The committee's resolution also asked the developer to reduce the height of  the 10th Avenue Side to a total of 184 feet, which would allow the developer to add on only five stories — down from their original plan of a nine-story expansion.

Jamestown could not immediately commit to the hefty 27 percent affordable housing requirement, but a representative did say the company was amenable to redirecting some of the money slated to go to the High Line towards affordable housing.

Lee Silberstein, a spokesman for Jamestown, said that the board's vote represented productive dialogue over the expansion.

"While we may not agree with all of their recommendations, we will continue to seek input from the Community Board and other key stakeholders as we move through the mandated process to gain City Council approval for the project's expansion," he said.

While the public was not invited to speak at the meeting, the project's many local opponents held up "No Upzoning" signs throughout much of it while on the other side of the room, supporters wore "Build It!" stickers.

The committee's vote reflects a sentiment among some board members that the expansion will be approved by the city regardless of what residents say, and that CB4 should try to get what benefits it can from the development.

But that didn't stop opponents from slamming the decision, calling it a "travesty."

"Tonight's vote made a mockery of our zoning laws," said Lesley Doyel, who heads up Save Chelsea, a group that's led the charge against the expansion.

"You can be sure that we are all pretty disgusted."

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