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Chelsea Market Expansion Foes Fear Christine Quinn's Mayoral Dreams

By Mathew Katz | March 13, 2012 6:51am
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn speaks during the 2011 GLAAD Amplifier Awards at the Altman Building on October 4, 2011 in New York City.
New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn speaks during the 2011 GLAAD Amplifier Awards at the Altman Building on October 4, 2011 in New York City.
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Jemal Countess/Getty Images

By Mathew Katz and Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Staff

CHELSEA — Controversial plans for a massive expansion to Chelsea Market are pitting Council Speaker Christine Quinn's mayoral ambitions against her duty to constituents, critics fear.

Quinn — who represents the area — has a huge influence over the deal's fate since developer Jamestown Properties' proposed nine-story addition needs City Council approval for a zoning change. 

But she has to balance growing neighborhood opposition with widespread support among the business community — a sector Quinn must woo if she wants to become mayor next year.

"This is going to be Chris the councillor versus Quinn the mayor," said one opponent of the project and a longtime Quinn supporter who asked for not to be identified. "I'm afraid that Quinn the mayor is going to win out on this one."

A rendering of the updated design for a proposed expansion to Chelsea Market
A rendering of the updated design for a proposed expansion to Chelsea Market
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Jamestown Properties

Quinn is reportedly in the midst of trying to convince  Jamestown to tone down plans for the market at 75 Ninth Ave., which has drawn enormous community criticism over the nine-floor addition that would provide 240,000 square feet of office space, along with a 90,000-square-foot hotel on the Ninth Avenue side, according to Crain's New York.

Passing the zoning change would boost Quinn's standing among the business community, which has largely come out in favor of the expansion. But even generous concessions may damage Quinn's reputation in her district.

Several sources with knowledge of the negotiations between Quinn and the developer said that the speaker sees some silver lining to the project, particularly the $17 million donation Jamestown would give to the High Line if the expansion goes forward.

Both Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Quinn view the park as part of their legacy, sources said, and a massive donation would help shore up the future of the park, which still needs funding to complete its third section.

Many opponents, however, said the only acceptable deal is for Quinn to scrap the plan completely.

"I don't see us supporting any change in the zoning to the site to facilitate building on top of it," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

"It's a huge complex already and it's very successful. There's no need to build on top of it."

Jamestown may be willing to get rid of its proposed boutique hotel and build additional office space instead, sources told Crain's. It may also agree to set aside retail space on the ground floor for artisan food vendors and independent businesses.

A spokesman for the project confirmed that the plan could still change before it's filed with the city.

"Jamestown continues to refine its proposal based on input from various stakeholders, including area residents," he said.

"We expect the proposal to enter the public review and approval process within the next several weeks, and look forward to continuing our discussion.”

The proposal has changed before. In December, the developer unveiled a plan that decreased the proposed height of the addition and got rid of a large glass cube that would have been on top of the building.

Still, anger against the project has mounted recently. An online petition launched in February now has more than 1,000 signatures.

Many worry the project is out of character with the historic building and it would cause traffic and block light to the High Line. Last week, Chelsea Now published a scathing editorial slamming the project.

Very few supporters have turned up at the many meetings on the subject. At one recent meeting, attended by over 100 people, only one person stood to voice support for the project — Peter Mullan of Friends of the High Line.

Even with the opposition, some members of Community Board 4 have said at recent meetings they believe the board should seek whatever benefits for the community it can from the zoning change and expansion.

"This project has faced an enormous amount of community opposition, and we take it very seriously," said Corey Johnson, the board's chair.

"If in fact this application is certified, the board wants to mitigate a problematic application and scale down an oversized development."

Jamestown is expected to submit a final plan for the expansion to the Department of City Planning later this month.  It would then wind its way through the public approval process coming before Community Board 4. It would likely head to City Council for a vote in the fall.

A spokesman for the City Council had no comment since a proposal has not yet been submitted.