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Chelsea Market Should Not Have Been Upzoned

Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market, the former Nabiscco factories and birthplace of the Oreo, are a landmark of 19th and 20th century American industrial architecture and history. An upzoning will allow large additions to be added atop the 9th Avenue end (left in picture) and 10th Avenue end (right in picture) of the complex.

Just prior to Sandy’s devastation, we reported the disappointing news that the City Council had agreed to approve the upzoning of Chelsea Market and allow a developer to construct two large additions atop the historic complex.  The deal, brokered by City Council Speaker Quinn and approved by the Council’s Land Use Committee, was headed to the full Council for approval when Mother Nature intervened, twice, and Council meetings had to be canceled.

While we await the final vote, please read the op-ed published in Chelsea Now, entitled “Chelsea Market Should Not Have Been Upzoned,” outlining our argument against the developer-friendly deal.

Chelsea Market Should Not Have Been Upzoned

Chelsea Market
Chelsea Market with planned 10th Avenue addition above the complex.

The deal between the City Council and international developer Jamestown Properties to upzone Chelsea Market, allowing two huge structures to be built atop the complex, was fundamentally flawed — as was the process from which it emerged.

The area around Chelsea Market is already suffering from terrible overdevelopment, traffic and congestion. This is in large part due to upzonings of the area the city has approved in the last seven years — four in Community Board 4 alone — creating more new development potential than in any other community board in the city. In fact, much of the additional development (and the traffic, congestion and infrastructure strain it will bring) has not yet even taken place — meaning this problem will get much worse over the coming years, even without the Chelsea Market upzoning. The Chelsea Market development will, however, make that bad situation even worse. Disappointingly, the City Council did not reduce the size of the development at all, which would have at least reduced this impact.

The two large towers to be built atop Chelsea Market will also permanently disfigure a beloved Chelsea and New York City landmark. The new 300,000-square-foot additions (increasing the amount of office space at Chelsea Market by nearly 50 percent) will not only loom over the complex, but also the High Line. While the deal also requires the existing façade of Chelsea Market be preserved (with the two enormous out-of-context additions built on top), this amounts to closing the barn door after most of the horses are out.

This provision has been touted as preventing the theoretical possibility of the Chelsea Market complex from being demolished in the future and replaced with a tall, thin tower.  But this is in fact a highly unlikely possibility. Under the current zoning, if Chelsea Market were demolished, its replacement would have to be about 10 percent smaller than the current buildings — and in New York City, buildings are rarely if ever demolished to be replaced by smaller ones.

The City Council’s deal also promises funding for the creation of 150 units of affordable housing. However, 100 of those units were actually promised and owed from the agreement between City Hall and the City Council for the 2005 West Chelsea rezoning — but were never delivered, and thus are not really “new” units at all.

One has to wonder if this affordable housing promise will be better kept and delivered than the last one, and why needed affordable housing only seems to be offered in exchange for large giveaways to developers that will have a host of other deleterious effects upon the community.

The Council deal promises that 75 percent of the ground floor of Chelsea Market will be reserved for food stores. Preserving food uses is a laudable goal, as Jamestown has moved sharply towards more non-food businesses in the beloved “market” from which Chelsea Market gets its name. However, promises like these are often made as part of these deals and turn out to be other than what was touted. Unfortunately, in this case the public has not been given the opportunity to see or comment upon the exact terms of this commitment (for instance, will chain food stores found in any mall in America count?) or how it will be enforced prior to the Council’s vote — and thus, we do not know the accuracy of this claim or exactly how it will be applied and enforced.

The Council voted to approve this deal with only one member, Zoning Subcommittee Chair David Weprin, staying for and listening to all the public testimony against the project. On the whole, the deal to upzone Chelsea Market will add to traffic and congestion, increase overdevelopment, diminish a beloved local landmark, and reinforce the view of a public review and approval system as one which denies the public a real voice.

Find out more about Chelsea Market HERE and HERE.

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