Proposed Hudson Yards changes arouse opposition

Stringer, the community board, and Council Members Katz and Avella voice strong opposition;vote planned for August. The Department of City Planning initiated a proposal for twelve text changes to sections of the Hudson Yards zoning text which the Council passed in 2005 and impacts West Midtown below 42nd Street. The proposed changes encompass design points, such as applying sidewalk widening rules along Eighth Avenue and waiving window glazing for projects along a portion of Hudson Boulevard, a new north-south commercial avenue in the heart of the zoning district. More significant text changes deal with relocating subway entrances for the No. 7 line, the transfer of development rights from MTA’s eastern rail yards, use of the Hudson Yards District Improvement Bonus, and alterations to street wall rules.

Under the proposed new text, developers could obtain a building permit for a project without precluding the possibility that they could later seek a transfer of development rights (TDRs) from MTA’s rail yards or the use of the District Improvement Bonus to increase the size of their building. The proposal would also give the Planning Commission rulemaking authority that will allow it, over time, to alter the rules on how to implement the District Improvement Bonus. The new street wall provisions would allow buildings along portions of Eighth and Ninth Avenues and West 34th Street to be set back five feet starting at the building’s third story.

At the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises, Chair Tony Avella and Council Member Melinda Katz, the Land Use Committee Chair, both voiced opposition. Avella opposed changes to the setback rules on Eighth and Ninth Avenues and West 34th Street. Calling it a “significant change,” Avella told City Planning that he was worried about it setting a precedent. Planning staff responded that the proposal would allow needed flexibility and result in a less monotonous design along the street wall. Planning also explained that the zoning text already allows modest setbacks in other portions of the City.

Katz questioned the proposed changes to the transfer of air rights from MTA’s rail yards and the Hudson Yards District Improvement Bonus. Katz asserted that the change would allow for a “disingenuous process” where the community would not know what project the developer ultimately planned to build. Calling the amendments to the District Improvement Bonus text “sloppy” and “confusing,” Katz said that she would not approve the proposal as written.

Following Katz and Avella’s comments, Anna Levin from Community Board 4 testified. She emphasized the Board’s continued opposition to the new setback rule and the change to the transfer of air rights from MTA’s site. Levin called the TDR plan wrong as a matter of public policy, adding that the City is dealing with “complex buildings” not “Legos.”

The Subcommittee closed the hearing without a vote. The final vote is expected in early August.

Review Process
Lead Agency: CPC,Not.Min.Mod.
Comm.Bd.: MN 4,App’d
Boro.Pres.: App’d
CPC: App’d, 11-0-0
Council: Pending

Council: Hearing on Special Hudson Yards, Clinton & Midtown Text Amendments (July 2, 2008).

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