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High Line is Expansion's Sole Supporter at Chelsea Market Meeting

By Mathew Katz | January 26, 2012 8:13am
Dozens of people spoke out against the proposed expansion of Chelsea Market at a meeting on Jan. 25 2012.
Dozens of people spoke out against the proposed expansion of Chelsea Market at a meeting on Jan. 25 2012.
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DNAinfo/Mathew Katz

CHELSEA — A plan for a massive expansion to the Chelsea Market got a resounding thumbs down from its neighbors Wednesday night — with only a single voice speaking in support.

At the first of many public forums on Jamestown Properties’ proposal for a huge expansion to the historic building, dozens of community members wearing "Save Chelsea Market!" stickers took to the podium to voice their opposition to the plan.

The proposal's sole supporter to speak out at the meeting was from Friends of the High Line. The elevated park stands to reap huge financial benefits if Jamestown's expansion goes through.

Jamestown’s proposal for the market at 75 Ninth Ave. would add nine floors and 240,000 square feet of office space on top of the building’s 10th Avenue side, and a 90,000 square foot hotel on the Ninth Avenue side.  

In order to do that, Jamestown needs to convince the City Council to approve a zoning change that would put Chelsea Market into the Special West Chelsea District, an area created largely to facilitate the construction of the High Line.

The tentative plan still needs to be certified by the city’s planning department — likely to happen on Feb. 27 — before undergoing a comprehensive and lengthy rezoning review process.

"Would the city really change its own zoning so that new office space can be built in a neighborhood that does not need it, and clearly does not want it?" asked Jim Jasper, head of the West 15th Street Block Association.

"What public good could possibly be created by Jamestown out of Chelsea Market? We’re choking on traffic along Ninth Avenue. The last thing we need is another hotel."

That sentiment was echoed by dozens of others, who said the expansion is out of character with the market and its surrounding buildings, that it would raise rents in the neighborhood and block light to the High Line.

Residents said zoning officials should not bend over backward to satisfy a single developer.

"We feel that this private investment scheme bonanza is not what our zoning regulations are intended for," said Lesley Doyel, who heads up Save Chelsea, a community group that’s led the charge against the market’s expansion.

If the development goes according to Jamestown’s plan, the developer would make a substantial one-time $17 million contribution to the city-run High Line Improvement Fund.  Jamestown would also add roughly 3,000 square feet of activity space and 1,000 square feet of storage space to the park — plus provide it with a freight elevator.

“We really see this as a unique opportunity to provide the High Line with infrastructure for the future,” said Peter Mullan, head of planning and design for Friends of the High Line. His comments were met with grumbles from many in the room.

Some members of Community Board 4’s Chelsea Preservation and Planning Committee, while not directly supporting the proposal, said they see an opportunity for the neighborhood to benefit from the market expansion.

This is the committee that will be first to weigh in on whether to support the rezoning application, and some members said they see it as a chance to improve upon the Special West Chelsea District.

Community members originally hoped the Special West Chelsea District, created in 2005, would include greater height and bulk limits, more affordable housing and additional open-space requirements.  If Jamestown Properties does win the right to expand Chelsea Market, the community may have a chance to expand the boundaries of the Special West Chelsea District and sweeten the 2005 deal.

"I would like to use it as a spearhead to look at larger zone changes, larger configurations in Chelsea," said committee member Burt Lazarin. "And perhaps how we go about creating a Chelsea park fund and a Chelsea affordable housing fund."

Still, many residents said they disliked the idea of giving Jamestown special treatment.

"Why is just one block being singled out for this spot zoning?" asked Hilda Regier.

"If you truly want all those areas considered for rezoning, vote this down this time around — if you want the whole thing, then we have another fight."