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West Side Railyards Clear Hurdle, Creates Exclusive Manhattan Neighborhood

By Serena Solomon | December 15, 2009 7:56am | Updated on December 15, 2009 7:53am
A rendering of the Western Rail Yard development.
A rendering of the Western Rail Yard development.
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New York Department of City Planning

By Serena Solomon

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CITY HALL — The West Side railyards development cleared a critical hurdle Monday when a City Council subcommittee approved a modified plan that adds more affordable housing units to the controversial project.

Under the approved plan, the developer, Related Companies, will be obliged to offer 20 percent of its housing stock to New Yorkers on moderate to low incomes. 

Despite the bump, neighborhood advocates complain that the project still creates an exclusive neighborhood for the rich on Manhattan's far West Side.

That's because the bulk of the new affordable housing will be stashed at two locations in Hell's Kitchen, not in the new project.

Speaker Christine Quinn speaks at a press conference after City Council voted to modify a rezoning plan to include affordable housing.
Speaker Christine Quinn speaks at a press conference after City Council voted to modify a rezoning plan to include affordable housing.
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Serena Solomon/DNAinfo

As it stands, 20 percent of rental units at the site, which is lated to include residential, commercial, retail and open space with a school, will be affordable. But when all other housing is factored in, including condos and co-ops, just 8 percent of the units are affordable, according to advocates.

Community advocates and politicians had been pushing to increase that percentage. The vote had been delayed twice last week as negotiations over the project continued behind closed doors. Monday was the first day the public learned of the final deal.

"Sometimes you fight for a lot and you only get some," said Tony Avella, D-Queens, chair of the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee. "But it is a much better plan."

DNAinfo reported last month that during a heated final public hearing on the rezoning, Community Board 4 members argued against the developer, Related Cos., lumping all the affordable housing off-site.

"New York City is known for ethnic and religious diversity that lives side by side as one big community," Deley Gazinelli, a CB4 member, said at the hearing. "This City Council will be the first one to create the most privileged, exclusive and segregated enclave in our city."

Community members also said they remained in the dark as to who would pay for the infrastructure and public services, such as hospitals and libraries, needed to meet demands when thousands of residents finally move into the new neighborhood.

The proposed development would be built on a platform over the MTA's Western Railyard from West 30th to West 33rd streets between Eleventh and Twelfth avenues.

Intense lobbying by community groups and politicians did win some battles in the rezoning, including making 20 percent permanent affordable housing mandatory in the development.

“This rezoning reflects years of conversations, outreach and input from community members," said Council Speaker Christine Quinn, in a press conference following the vote.

"A rezoning of this magnitude that unlocks an unprecedented amount of developmental potential would only be tenable with a guaranteed affordable housing program."

The affordable housing will be open to moderate and middle income families, as well as those in the low income bracket.

Other modification to the plan include family friendly apartments with two or more bedrooms, involvement from the Parks Department in creating five acres of public space and indoor community space.

With the changes, the rezoning proposal must go back through the city planning process and will likely be approved by the City Council on Dec. 21. Even with rezoning agreement in place many believe it will be many years before construction starts.