CHELSEA — After months of heated debate, Community Board 4 has given its support to a controversial plan to expand Chelsea Market.
The 24 to 14 vote came Wednesday night after hours of testimony that pitted longtime residents against the entrepreneurs that run the market's food concourse.
The meeting was the first time that CB4 Chairman Corey Johnson publicly announced his opposition to the project.
"The proposed expansion would destroy the historic character of the Chelsea market building," said Johnson, who is gearing up for a run for Speaker Christine Quinn’s city council seat.
"I believe that adding two new towers will only add to the whirlwind of gentrification in Chelsea."
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 board's recommendation asks the city to effectively tie affordable housing development to the bulk of the building.
The board said support for the project is conditional on Jamestown's commitment to contribute to affordable housing space in the neighborhood equivalent to 27 percent of the square footage of the expansion — which could be around 81,000 square feet of housing somewhere else in the neighborhood.
Essentially, the bigger the expansion, the more cash Jamestown would have to fork out for it.
Jamestown’s management could not immediately commit to the affordable housing request, but had previously been amenable to directing some of a roughly $19 million contribution to the High Line towards affordable housing. Regardless, Jamestown said it viewed the vote as a step forward.
"It’s definitely good news and we appreciate the process," said Lee Silberstein, a spokesman.
Despite a passionate speech from Johnson and others expressing their vehement opposition to the project, many on the board viewed the development as an inevitability, and wanted to give conditions for it instead of issuing a blanket "no."
"We have to balance in terms of what's real and the power that the city provides us and what the community wants and unfortunately they don’t always jive," board member Paul Seres said.
Thanks to the board’s negotiations, the developer has already agreed to not oppose efforts to landmark the building, has shrunk the overall size of the expansion, and eliminated a proposed hotel on the Ninth Avenue side.
Over the hours-long meeting, longtime residents expressed their fears that any expansion would bring rapid gentrification, cast shadows on the High Line and would destroy the historic building.
"Not all progress is good," said Claudia Dreifus, a longtime Chelsea resident.
"Our neighborhood has tipped over into a kind of touristic neighborhood that is no longer the neighborhood we enjoy."
But many of the very people who helped transform the market’s food-centered ground floor into a top culinary destination stepped forward to sing Jamestown’s praises and lend their support to a proposal that would help them grow their businesses.
"Jamestown helped me grow my company, they gave me an opportunity [at Chelsea Market]," said Ken Nye, who owns Ninth Street Espresso, a coffee shop that’s grown from a staff of six to 25 since moving into the market."
"I need Jamestown to help grow that building so I can grow my company and we can provide more people with jobs."
Now that the board has voted, the proposal will go to Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, where he will have 30 days to give a recommendation on the project.
After that, the proposal will go to the City Planning Commission, and eventually to the City Council, which will have the final say, likely in October.