Council Subcommittee Approves Expansion of the Special West Chelsea District [UPDATE: City Council Approves Expansion]

Areas under study by the Department of City Planning for inclusion into the Special West Chelsea District. Area "A" is currently before the City Planning Commission. Image credit: DCP

Areas under study by the Department of City Planning for inclusion into the Special West Chelsea District. Area “A” is currently slated for expansion. Image credit: DCP

Proposal extends Special District bulk regulations and clarifies language in the zoning text.  On January 13, 2015 the City Council Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises voted to approve the expansion of the Special West Chelsea District. The proposal was designed by the Department of City Planning and Manhattan Community Board 4 to expand the district by one partial block between West 15th Street to the north, West 14th Street to the south, 9th Avenue to the east, and 10th Avenue to the west in order to reinforce the residential character of West Chelsea. The proposal was approved by the City Planning Commission on December 17, 2014.

Erik Botsford from the Department of City Planning testified in support of the proposal. Mr. Botsford praised the establishment of the Special West Chelsea District in 2005, arguing it was responsible for converting the area into the largest art gallery district in not only New York City but also the entire country. Mr. Botsford testified the target expansion area was located between the West Chelsea District and the Gansevoort Market Historic District, without the protections of either. Mr. Botsford went on to state the proposal would keep the M1-5 zoning designation in the expansion area, but will bring the area under West Chelsea District’s bulk regulations, limiting building heights to a maximum of one hundred and thirty-five feet and restricting built form to streetwall buildings with a base of sixty to ninety-five feet. Mr. Botsford described the requested text amendments as clarifying existing language in the zoning text to strengthen streetwall requirements, rear yard provisions, and to now permit unenclosed sidewalk cafes on the wide streets in the District.  “The Department feels the expansion of cafes here will animate West Chelsea’s streets and will complement the dynamic retail environment that has grown here since the implementation of the 2005 rezoning.”  Mr. Botsford ended by stating the proposal has received unconditional support from Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and unanimous votes in favor from Manhattan Community Board 4 and the City Planning Commission, after City Planning granted one commercial property owner in the District an exemption from the new rear yard requirements to allow expansion of his business.

From Manhattan Community Board 4, Chelsea Land Use co-chair Betty Mackintosh and Board chair Christine Berthet testified in favor of the expansion. Ms. Mackintosh urged the Council and City Planning to expand the Special District even further, to include an area between West 25th Street and West 30th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues.  “Developers are now coming to us with proposals [for this area]…We would much rather be proactive and establish appropriate zoning ahead of time than reactive to developers’ out-of-context proposals.”  Ms. Berthet spoke in favor of a modification to the text amendment proposed by Council Member Corey Johnson, continuing the ban on unenclosed sidewalk cafes on the west side of 9th Avenue between West 15th and West 16th Streets.  “This area is very crowded with tourists as well as customers of [Chelsea] Market, and it’s really not appropriate to have sidewalk cafes there.”

Council Member Corey Johnson, who represents West Chelsea, spoke in favor of the expansion. “Expanding the Special West Chelsea District to West 15th Street will help protect the low-rise character of the block south of Chelsea Market, helping to spur mixed-use development, and preserve the integrity of West Chelsea’s commercially-zoned properties.”  Council Member Vincent Gentile asked about a proposed 25-story hotel in the expansion area, which Mr. Botsford confirmed would proceed regardless of the Subcommittee’s vote as the permits had already been granted, and testified it was the construction of the hotel that prompted the Special District expansion to prevent further such developments. Council Member Antonio Reynoso spoke in favor of the expansion, arguing “This is a perfect example of when M1-zoning designations can ruin a block, where the intent is not necessarily to build hotels, but because they are allowed we see blocks like this lose their character,” and called on the Subcommittee and the full Land Use Committee to remove hotels from the M1 zoning designation.

The Subcommittee voted 6-0 to approve the zoning text amendment and voted 5-1 to approve the map amendment. The modified proposal was referred back to the City Planning Commission for consideration.

City Council:  Public Hearing LU 0164-2014, LU 0165-2014 (Jan. 13, 2015).

UPDATE:  On January 15, 2015 the Land Use Committee voted 20-0 to approve the expansion.  On January 22nd, 2015 the full City Council voted 50-0 to approve the expansion.

By: Michael Twomey (Michael is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2014.)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.