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City Council Grills Developer on Chelsea Market Expansion

By Mathew Katz | October 23, 2012 4:19pm

CITY HALL — The City Council grilled the development team at Jamestown Properties Tuesday on the proposed expansion of Chelsea Market, with some elected officials voicing concerns about how to require the developer to live up to its promises if the plan goes through.

Elected officials, speaking at the the last of a series of public hearings during a meeting of the Council’s Subcommittee of Zoning and Franchises, said they are wary of the developer not keeping its promises on a provision that would require Jamestown to contribute roughly $4.7 million to an affordable housing fund.

The fund would be part of the proposal, which needs City Council approval, to move the historic building into the Special West Chelsea District and allow Jamestown to build a roughly 210,000 square foot office expansion on the 10th Avenue side, along with a 90,000 square foot development on the Ninth Avenue side.

Jamestown would also be requored to contribute roughly $12 million for the High Line Improvement Fund.

The cash going to the affordable housing fund has not yet been allocated to any specific project, though many have suggested it should go to the Fulton Houses, which sit across the street from Chelsea Market.

“We want to be certain that when there are commitments made here, particularly on affordable housing, that there are mechanisms in place to make sure that it happens and that it’s locked in,” said City Councilman Dan Garodnick.

The hours-long meeting, which included testimony from dozens of local businesses, residents, and elected officials, gave both supporters and opponents their final public chance to sway Council members on the controversial plan.

The affordable housing fund, created in 2005 along with the Special West Chelsea District, is currently empty. Once funds are in it, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development would decide where it would go.

“This would be the first use of the affordable housing fund in Special West Chelsea,” said Melanie Meyers, an attorney for Jamestown. “No one has contributed to that fund, so this is a great use for that fund.”

But Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, who testified against the proposal, doubted that the fund will ever translate into brick-and-mortar affordable housing.

“This is going to be one more of these cases, where it will be a promise for zoning change and a result that doesn’t add any more affordable housing, but puts more pressure on the neighborhood,” she said.

There are several outstanding issues in the proposal, including two requests from Community Board 4 that Jamestown has yet to commit to: one request for a computer education center in the building and another for Jamestown to support a campaign to landmark the building.

Meyers also elicited audible scoffs from some audience members when she said the massive project would not add any traffic to the neighborhood.

Jamestown pitched the proposal to the Council as a way to help the neighborhood grow its booming tech sector. According to the developer, the project would create over 1,200 permanent jobs along with 600 union construction jobs and allow its high-profile tenants to expand.

Along with business owners, dozens of union workers from the service worker’s union 32BJ came to voice their support for the project.

“Chelsea Market is now out of room,” said Michael Phillips, Jamestown’s chief operating officer.

“We’re asking for the opportunity to allow these businesses to expand and thrive in what has now become their home.”

But City Councilwoman Jessica Lappin countered by saying that the city’s tech sector needs other incubators.

“We’re not going to grow thousands of jobs in just Chelsea Market,” she said. “We’re going to have to have businesses grow in other buildings and other locations for the long-term economic viability of the city.”

Ian MacGregor, owner of the Lobster Place, said he would likely hire 40 to 45 new employees if he was given more room to grow.

“I see the Chelsea Market expansion project is really the next logical step in the story of this building,” he said.

Absent from the hearing was City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, whose district the market falls in. Asked about the hearing at a press conference on Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he would first turn to Quinn on the subject, but expressed sympathy for both sides when a neighborhood is on the cusp of change.

"You don't want a perceptive change overnight, but evolving to recognize what made that neighborhood great," he said. "Recognize the people that made it great, but also keep adding to what is there."

The City Council has until Nov. 2 to make a decision on the proposal.