Council modifies zoning of MTA’s Western Rail Yard

Proposed development of the MTA’s Western Rail Yard site, including eight mixed-use towers, as envisioned by the Related Companies. Image: Courtesy of Related Companies.

The Council’s Land Use Committee approved the proposal after the developer agreed to provide permanently affordable on-site housing. On December 14, 2009, the City Council’s Land Use Committee modified and approved Goldman Sachs and Related Companies’ proposal to develop the Western Rail Yard site on the far west side of Midtown, Manhattan. The thirteen-acre site is bounded by West 33rd Street to the north, West 30th Street to the south, Eleventh Avenue to the east, and Twelfth Avenue to the west. The High Line runs along the site’s southern and western edges, but it is not part of the proposed project.

The approved plan will convert the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s open rail storage yard into a 5.7 million sq.ft. development that would include eight mixed-use towers, containing roughly 4,600 – 5,700 dwelling units, 5.4 acres of open space, and a new public school. The proposal included setting aside twenty percent of the project’s rental units as affordable housing. Related submitted applications to rezone the site from an M2-3 to a C6-4 district, obtain special permits to build two parking garages with a maximum of 1,600 combined spaces, and to extend the Special Hudson Yards District to include the site.

As part of the project’s broader goals to develop permanent affordable housing in the area, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development requested permission to dispose of two off-site City-owned properties as locations for affordable housing. An MTA-controlled site, located at Ninth Avenue between West 54th and West 53rd Streets, would provide 100 residential units and 30,000 sq. ft. of office space. A second site at Tenth Avenue between West 49th and West 48th Streets is controlled by the Department of Environmental Protection and would provide an additional 200 units of affordable housing. The City would identify developers for the sites through a formal RFP process.

The City Planning Commission modified the proposal during its review of the project, including altering design criteria for the open space areas and individual towers. The Commission also required that the Special Hudson Yards District include definitions for the High Line and the High Line bed in order to ensure its proper integration and preservation.

At the Subcommittee’s November 23 public hearing, elected officials and community groups expressed concern about affordable housing. David Hanzel, a member of Manhattan Community Board 4, said only approximately eight percent of all on-site housing would be temporarily affordable. He requested the project include at least twenty percent of all on-site units as permanently affordable. State Senator Thomas K. Duane, by written statement, said he was “grateful” for the plan’s two off-site affordable housing projects, but that the 30,000 sq.ft. set aside for MTA office space at the Ninth Avenue site was unacceptable. He asked the MTA to relinquish the space in order to provide more affordable housing in the Ninth Avenue building.

Speaker Christine C. Quinn, whose district includes the Hudson Yards, generally praised the proposal. Quinn noted that the MTA selected Related to develop the site because it had the strongest plan regarding affordable housing. She continued that “we expect” a guarantee on a minimum number of permanently affordable on-site units. Chair Tony Avella closed the hearing without a vote to allow for further discussions.

When the Subcommittee reconvened, Avella announced the proposal had been modified. In addition to setting aside additional space for the public school and increasing community input concerning the allocation of open space, Related agreed to set aside more than twenty percent of all residential units as affordable housing permanently.

The Subcommittee approved the modified proposal, and the Land Use Committee followed suit, with Chair Melinda R. Katz abstaining and Council Member Charles Barron voting no. The Council referred the modified plan back to the City Planning Commission for review.

Council: Western Rail Yard (C 090433 ZMM – rezoning); (C 090408 MMM – map amend.); (C 090422 HAM – UDAAP); (C 090423 HAM – UDAAP); (N 090429 ZRM – text amend.); (C 090430 ZMM – rezoning); (N 090434 ZRM – text amend.); (C 090435 ZSM – spec. perm.); (C 090436 ZSM – spec. perm.) (Dec. 14, 2009).


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