Chelsea Market Expansion Plan Runs Into Opposition and Concerns About the High Line

Rendering of Chelsea Market’s proposed Tenth Avenue addition. Courtesy of Jamestown Properties and Studios

Borough president and local community board oppose current plan to build additions to the eastern and western sides of block-long Chelsea Market. On July 25, 2012, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on Jamestown Properties’ expansion plan for Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Avenue in Manhattan. The Market is a complex of 18 different buildings occupying the entire block bounded by West 14th and West 15th Streets and Ninth and Tenth Avenues and was formerly occupied by Nabisco. A portion of the High Line elevated park runs through the Market’s western edge on Tenth Avenue. The Market provides more than 1.1 million sq.ft. of space for food-related and non-food-related retail and wholesale businesses, along with media and technology companies.

Jamestown’s initial proposal included building a 240,000-square-foot, nine-story office addition on the Tenth Avenue side of the Market, and a 90,000-square-foot, 11-story hotel addition on the Ninth Avenue side of the Market. The nine-story addition on Tenth Avenue would increase the Market’s height from 84 feet to 226 feet. The 11-story addition on Ninth Avenue would increase the tallest portion of that side of the Market from 51 feet to 160 feet. Jamestown did not propose any new development for the mid-block.

To facilitate the expansion, Jamestown proposed extending the Special West Chelsea District south to include the Market. Chelsea Market’s M1-5 zoning designation would remain unchanged, but an accompanying zoning text amendment to the Special West Chelsea District regulations would allow an increase in the maximum floor area ratio on the site from 5.0 to 7.5 FAR through a financial contribution to the High Line Improvement Fund. Jamestown’s contribution, estimated at $17 million, would be based on the floor area of the additions. The contribution would provide amenities, such as public restrooms and support space adjacent to the High Line. The text amendment would also establish setback requirements and other building-envelope controls for the block.

In June 2012, Manhattan Community Board 4 voted 26-14-0 to conditionally disapprove the proposal. Citing to the affordable housing provisions found within the Special West Chelsea District regulations, CB 4 requested that Jamestown create affordable housing within the community equal in floor area to 27 percent of the floor area of the proposed additions. CB 4 also requested that Jamestown reduce the heights of the additions, eliminate the proposed hotel use, prohibit outdoor restaurants and bars, and reduce height limits for any future development in the Market’s mid-block portion.

Jamestown responded to CB 4’s concerns by eliminating the proposed hotel use in the Ninth Avenue addition, and altering the proposed text amendment to reduce maximum building heights in the mid-block zone from 150 feet to 130 feet after required setbacks. While Jamestown did not reduce the height of the Tenth Avenue addition, it agreed to reduce the bulk and lower the height of the Ninth Avenue addition to 135 feet.

Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer recommended disapproval unless Jamestown altered the proposal in several additional ways. Stringer recommended that Jamestown shift the massing towards Ninth Avenue by eliminating the Tenth Avenue addition entirely. He recommended that the overall building height of any addition (whether on Ninth or Tenth Avenue) be limited to 184 feet with appropriate setbacks. Stringer also recommended that the text amendment be altered to require Jamestown to provide funding to the West Chelsea Affordable Housing Fund, provided that the City can identify an appropriate site within Community District 4 prior to approval.

On July 25, 2012 the project was reviewed by the Planning Commission. Representatives of Jamestown, including CEO Michael Phillips, spoke. Phillips testified that the expansion would create needed space for new and expanding media and technology companies and would help support the High Line. Phillips stated that the Market was “out of room,” and said the proposal would give it an opportunity to grow.

Representatives from the Real Estate Board of New York and the Service Employees International Union 32BJ supported the proposal. The co-founders of Friends of the High Line also supported the Market’s expansion, noting that the contributions to the High Line resulting from the project would help the City meet its maintenance commitments.

Opponents of the plan were divided on whether any version of the proposal should be approved. Representatives of CB 4 repeated requests that Jamestown either provide affordable housing or contribute to the West Chelsea Affordable Housing Fund, and questioned the height of the Tenth Avenue addition and its potential impact on the High Line. A representative of State Senator Thomas K. Duane urged the Planning Commission to reject the proposal unless Jamestown met all of CB 4’s conditions. Brian Cook, representing Borough President Stringer, reiterated that the massing along Tenth Avenue would be more appropriate if shifted toward Ninth Avenue, noting that the new tower would be across the street from the 275-foot office building at 111 Eighth Avenue.

Assembly Member Richard N. Gottfried, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation’s Andrew Berman, and a group of residents asked the Planning Commission to reject the proposal outright. Berman argued that the Market was thriving financially and that Jamestown’s sole motivation was increased profits. He also submitted a petition signed by 1,300 people opposed to the expansion. A representative for Assembly Member Gottfried stated that the proposal was “simply too large for the neighborhood,” and would have a “visually jarring and disruptive effect” on people visiting the High Line.

The commissioners inquired about the impact on views from the High Line and about whether the massing could be shifted toward Ninth Avenue. Chair Amanda M. Burden stated that from the perspective of a visitor to the High Line, “Sky…is golden.” Burden wanted to know how much of the light and air would be blocked by the addition, and asked David Burns, the project’s architect, to walk the commissioners through a series of illustrated boards showing views from the High Line headed north to the Market. Commissioner Irwin Cantor asked Michael Phillips whether the massing could be reduced and shifted east toward the Market’s mid-block. Phillips responded that the buildings in the mid-block sections could not provide the structural support for the massing.

The Planning Commission has until September 17, 2012 to vote on the proposal.

CPC: Chelsea Market (N 120142 ZRM – text amendment); (C 120143 ZMM – rezoning) (July 25, 2012) (Architect: Studios Architecture).

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