Meanwhile, Related continues to work on the railyard master plan...
High Line supporters ‘spur’ developer to save section
Vishaan Chakrabarti (at microphone), Related’s executive vice president of design and planning, and Jay Cross, president of Related Hudson Yards, address the crowd.
By Heather Murray
December 5-11, 2008
High Line supporters flooded a public meeting on Monday wearing matching red T-shirts and waving signs to lobby developers of the Hudson Yards to preserve the northern portion of the former elevated railway.
The meeting, held by Community Board 4 with the development team of The Related Companies/Goldman Sachs, intended to cover the developer’s request for a zoning amendment to add a building and limit on-site parking at the eastern portion of the rail yards.
Instead, Related spent most of the evening rebuffing attempts from High Line advocates to obtain a clear commitment from the developer to protect the High Line’s 10th Ave. “spur,” where it abuts the yards along W. 30th St.
Supporters filled the Red Cross conference room on W. 49th St. donning “Save the Spur” shirts handed out by Friends of the High Line and holding signs reading “Spur of the Moment” to draw attention to the section, which represents a third of the entire High Line structure. The spur is located where the developer plans to build commercial buildings and an urban plaza, and discussions between the Friends and Related about the fate of the section have been ongoing since the developer was chosen this spring.
Several minutes before the meeting began, attendees filled every chair and the audience snaked around the back and sides of the room. FHL cofounder Robert Hammond, the first to sign up on the public comment sheet to speak, asked how many people in the room were High Line supporters—with more than three-quarters of the audience shooting up their hands.
“Ten, 20, 30, 100 years from now, no one is going to remember these discussions about the spur. It’s either going to be there or it’s not going to be there, and that’s all that really matters,” he said. “I think the city wants to be on the right side of history, and I think we have that opportunity … The High Line is going to be the only piece of history that’s visible on the site. It’s what will give this new development soul. Hopefully.”
Hammond added that he is still concerned about future buildings blocking the 30th Street view corridor on the Western Rail Yard.
Frank Sanchez, senior vice president of the Municipal Art Society of New York, said that the spur illustrates how the High Line weaves through the city and ultimately connects to the rail yards. “It’s not intelligible unless the entire High Line is preserved,” he noted, wondering “why we have to keep coming back at hearing after hearing to defend something that has proved itself so much.”
Congressmember Jerrold Nadler also came to the meeting to advocate for the High Line as a longtime supporter of the structure. He filed a lawsuit back in the 1980s along with other elected officials to keep the city from tearing it down. He commented that the High Line enhances property values located near the “very valuable and unique open space.”
“Why anyone would even think of tearing down the spur is frankly beyond me,” he added. Nadler then asked that the public be given assurance that the entire High Line be preserved. “We shouldn’t have to re-fight the battle we fought 10 or 15 years ago.”
He also supports the reduction in parking spaces and Related’s reintroduction of the street grid to the site.
Several residents also questioned the developer’s reasons for not committing to saving the spur. Related’s executive vice president of design and planning, Vishaan Chakrabarti, who is also a board member of the Friends of the High Line, reiterated that Related has made “no decision about the spur.”
“Many of us truly believe in the High Line,” he said. “The spur is very unique. It has a very specific location vis-à-vis our site. I think those discussions with Friends of the High Line have been very productive. We need to work together to solve the problem.”
Board 4 chairperson JD Noland had earlier kicked off the forum on a more humorous note. “Goldman Sachs wants to put a farm down there and raise corn and soybeans, so they will get at least some return on their investment,” he quipped, while the community would be delighted with “six-story brick buildings with 90 percent permanent affordable housing and each apartment to have a view of the High Line.”
Obviously, Related has different plans for the site, located roughly where Chelsea meets Hell’s Kitchen between 10th and 11th Aves. and 30th and 33rd Sts. The concept the developer presented had mostly been set in stone in the 2005 rezoning of the Eastern Rail Yard, where Related plans to build primarily office and retail buildings on roughly 6.27 million zoning square feet, including three residential buildings, several acres of open space, cultural and parking facilities.
“There’s a limited number of things we can persuasively comment on,” said Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee chairperson Anna Hayes Levin, who is also a Board 4 member, adding that has never before stopped the community from letting its views be known.
Levin said that the City Planning Commission would put the minor zoning changes Related is seeking out for public comment later this week,
one of which seeks to lower the number of required parking spaces on-site—a move that many community members said they endorsed wholeheartedly.
The zoning currently requires a minimum of 2,000 parking spaces, and Jay Cross, president of Related Hudson Yards, said the developer is seeking to have that minimum removed entirely. Related does plan to have on-site parking, but would prefer to have a maximum of 1,000 spaces,
350 of which would be designated for commercial purposes. Cross said his team hopes to remove the potential for public parking at Hudson Yards, allowing only parking that is linked to residential and commercial uses.
The other change Related hopes the city will approve is to allow a building to go up on the southwest corner of the site at 30th St. and 11th Ave., adjacent to the proposed cultural facility,
which Cross said would decrease the size of the facility.
Chakrabarti stressed that, “While we’re permitting a building where before there wasn’t a building, we haven’t increased the density in any way.”
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried offered four proposals for the developer to consider, suggesting first that a school be incorporated into the cultural facility. “It could be themed to take advantage of that co-location,” he said. A 120,000-square-foot elementary/middle school is already proposed for the western portion of the rail yard, but it would likely seat only about 800 students, and Gottfried felt “the current plan should be expanded and come online sooner.”
He also advocated for the spur’s survival, saying removal of the spur is unnecessary, would violate New York’s commitment to maximizing the revitalization of the High Line, and simply “is not acceptable.”
“It is hard to fathom why in the last six months there has not been a solution to this problem, as other issues have been resolved,” Gottfried said. “This can and must be worked out.” He also requested that Related pay special attention to open space and sustainability, and work to reduce traffic flowing into and out of the site.
Several residents asked for more details on the residential housing planned for the eastern portion. Chakrabarti responded that 1.7 million square feet of residential housing would be built, the maximum allowed in the current zoning, which works out to roughly 1,700 units. Related plans to make 20 percent of the rental units affordable, but hasn’t determined how many rental units will be included in the project.
Chakrabarti noted that out of the three residential buildings, it is “reasonable to assume one will be rental, but we haven’t made a determination yet.”
Christine Berthet, co-chairperson of CB 4’s Transportation Planning Committee, said that she hoped Related would commit to reduce parking even further than stated in its proposed text amendment. She noted that even in the richest areas of Manhattan, the highest level of ownership for cars is 31 percent. Lower-income people are much less likely to own cars, she stated, and pointed out that Related’s proposed number of parking spaces would still provide roughly 35 percent of potential residential units with a parking spot. “The average should be more around 25 percent,” Berthet added, noting that the federal Clean Air Act “suggested that 20 percent would be good.” More money should be spent on transportation infrastructure like the No. 7 subway extension and less on parking, she said.
Board 4’s Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee will discussRelated/Goldman Sachs’s proposed text amendments at its next monthly meeting, scheduled for Dec. 10 at 6:30 p.m. at John Jay College.