High Line/Chelsea Rezoning Gets Go Ahead

Rezoning crafted to transform High Line into elevated open space; no mandatory affordable housing requirement set, despite community’s request. On June 23, 2005, the City Council approved the complicated rezoning and land acquisition plan for West Chelsea that has as its central goal the transformation of the High Line, an elevated rail line, into a 1.45-mile open space.

The approved rezoning impacts the area between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues from West 17th to West 30th Streets and on West 16th through West 18th Streets, east of Tenth Avenue to the mid-block. The area’s zoning had been M1-5 manufacturing except for the West 23rd Street corridor, which was rezoned in 1999 for commercial uses. Under the approved rezoning, only a small portion remains zoned manufacturing, in order to preserve lots for additional Chelsea art galleries, with the remaining blocks permitting commercial and residential uses.

Special mechanisms are built into the rezoning to achieve the High Line’s transformation and maintain its usability. Lots containing the High Line are designated as the “High Line Transfer Corridor,” allowing the lot owners to sell development rights, in lieu of the right to develop the High Line area, to other sites located away from the High Line structure. One million square feet could be transferred. In some cases, the receiving sites that purchased development rights could increase the as-of-right development size from a moderate density of 7.5 FAR to a high density of 12 FAR. Development adjacent to the High Line itself is restricted by a series of setback requirements aimed at preserving light and air for the new open space.

The plan allows a further increase in density with construction or preservation of affordable housing. Developers are required to use the High Line density bonus first, however, before the second density increase for affordable housing is permitted.

Throughout the rezoning process, residents requested that the Planning Commission and the Council redraft the rezoning to require 30 percent mandatory and permanent affordable housing in Chelsea and a reduction in the overall density. HPD’s representative, testifying at the June 15, 2005 hearing before the Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises, explained that the rezoning had been modified to allow an affordable housing density bonus on medium-density lots rather than solely high-density lots, and projected the affordable housing to total 900 units with the plan. Amanda Burden, Planning Commission Chair, explained that the principal goal of the rezoning is to “create a mixed-use residential community with the development of the High Line as its central organizing principle.” Opponents argued that no developer would use the affordable housing incentive because a project’s size could be significantly increased with sole use of the High Line density bonus.

At the June 20th Subcommittee vote, Council Member Christine Quinn, Chelsea’s representative, announced that protracted negotiations with the administration had yielded a projected amount of affordable housing of 27 percent of all new and preserved units. No mandatory requirement to build affordable housing was required, however, despite the community’s request. Quinn stated that while the Hudson Yards rezoning projected 28 percent affordable housing, a key distinction with the West Chelsea rezoning was that it would achieve the High Line’s transformation into a “world-renown open space.” Additionally, Quinn explained that the anti-harassment and anti-demolition protections in the Special Clinton District would be extended to the West Chelsea rezoning area, and once 90 percent of the High Line fund was satisfied, an affordable housing fund would be created.

Following Quinn’s recommendation, the Subcommittee and the full Land Use Committee approved.

ULURP Process The Planning Commission, as lead agency, issued a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on December 20, 2004, held a public hearing on April 6, 2005, and issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement on May 13, 2005.

Community Board 4 disapproved the rezoning, approving only the City’s acquisition of property for the High Line. The Board’s 22-page disapproval recommended the elimination of the High Line Transfer Corridor, adding that developers should be required to build the needed High Line improvements rather than solely paying into an improvement fund. The Board also asked that the overall height be restricted to 280 feet.

Borough President C. Virginia Fields approved with conditions, recommending that developers be required to use the affordable housing bonus before being able to use the High Line floor area bonus to reach 30 percent, mandatory affordable housing.

Following a public hearing on April 6, 2005, the Commission unanimously approved, finding that the rezoning would create opportunities for development, protect the art gallery district and facilitate the development of the High Line. Commissioner Karen Phillips noted that it was unfortunate that the High Line bonus must be used prior to the housing bonus, but approved, noting that the creation of the High Line open space created a unique circumstance.

Council: West Chelsea/High Line (June 23, 2005); CPC: West Chelsea/High Line (N 050161(A) ZRM – text amendment); (C 050162(A) ZMM – map amendment); (N 050163 PCM – acquisition of High Line) (May 25, 2005). CITYADMIN

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