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City Council Committee Passes Modified Chelsea Market Expansion Plan

By Mathew Katz | October 25, 2012 4:58pm

CITY HALL — The City Council’s zoning subcommittee voted to approve a modified plan to expand Chelsea Market, setting the stage for its final approval next week.

The proposal passed the City Council’s Zoning and Franchises and Land Use subcommittees after landlord Jamestown Properties agreed to several changes to the plan, negotiated by council members throughout the day.

The new plan includes restrictions to protect the preservation of the market's existing buildings as they are today, including controls on what masonry and windows can be used. There is also a provision forbidding ad signage on the new expansion.

The Council also negotiated a specific use for roughly $4.7 million in cash going to the West Chelsea Affordable Housing fund — it will now go to the next door Fulton Houses to make new affordable housing units.

In exchange, the committee voted to move the proposal forward. If passed by the full Council, it would shift Chelsea Market into the Special West Chelsea District, allowing them to build a 210,000-square-foot expansion on the Tenth Avenue side, along with a 90,000-square-foot-addition on the Ninth Avenue end of the building. Both parts would house new, high-tech office space.

Other concessions include an agreement that 75 percent of the building's concourse will be dedicated to food-related uses, including new food startups. Jamestown also promised to pledge $1.05 million over four years to create a technology-training program for youth in nearby public housing.

In addition to the donation to the affordable housing fund, Jamestown will also be required to contribute roughly $12 million for the High Line Improvement Fund.

"This has been a long process. The project has changed in numerous ways along the way," said Councilman Mark Weprin, chairman of the committee.

Weprin added that the expansion would likely be beneficial for the city's tech sector and could help attract desirable companies to New York.

"We need new businesses. I understand how the neighbors are upset, but in the end we have to weigh what's best for the entire city," he said.

The zoning subcommittee hosted an hours-long, often raucous public hearing on the proposal on Tuesday, during which only Weprin stuck around for the entire session.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who represents Chelsea, but has been largely absent from public discussions on the plan, met with both sides of the struggle in an attempt to get a deal that would work for both the business community and longtime Chelsea residents, according to sources involved in the meetings.

In a statement, Quinn hailed the agreement as good for both the neighborhood and the city's economy.

"This agreement ensures the Chelsea Market we know and love today will be allowed to grow in a way that preserves its current facade and keeps it in scale with the surrounding neighborhood," she said.

"In the original plan, there were no restrictions on what the developer could do to the unique and cherished ground-floor retail space dominated by food vendors. The Council’s action permanently protects 75 percent of the current total interior ground-floor concourse retail space for food-related uses."

Jamestown, who says that the expansion will create 1,200 permanent jobs along with another 600 jobs during the construction, praised the subcommittee’s decision.

"We're gratified we've had a positive vote from the committee," said Jamestown Chief Operating Officer Michael Phillips. "It's been a positive process and I think the plan has struck a good balance."

The expansion continued to draw criticism from a wealth of preservationist opponents, who said that any expansion of the market would destroy the character of the historic building, bring in traffic to the neighborhood and lead to higher rents in Chelsea.

“The Council committee’s vote is deeply disappointing,” said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “There are a million places in Chelsea and other parts of Manhattan where this type of development could go. Putting it on top of an historic landmark, at an intersection already bursting at the seams with traffic, and where it will cast a shadow on the High Line park, just makes no sense."

The plan will now go back to the Department of City Planning before going before the full City Council next week.