Volume 17 • Issue 12 / August 13 - 19, 2004

Planner: Hudson Yards won’t diminish rebuilding

By Albert Amateau

At Aug. 5 “Envisioning the West Side” forum, from left, Manhattan City Planning director Vishaan Chakrabarti; City Councilmember Christine Quinn; State Senator Tom Duane, who sponsored the forum; and Deputy Mayor Dan Docotoroff

Looking beyond the controversial proposal for a stadium and for an expansion of the Javits Convention, West Side residents, businesses and elected officials last week turned their attention to the rest of the Bloomberg administration’s far-reaching Hudson Yards redevelopment plan.

The impact on Downtown redevelopment of the 28 million sq. ft. of office space expected in the Hudson Yards on the west side of Midtown over the next 20 years was a point of contention at an Aug. 5 forum.

“The collapse of the dot-coms and the downsizing of Wall St. shows that all that commercial space is not needed now,” Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, told the forum. If the Hudson Yards redevelopment were deferred, he added, “It would reduce the risk that commercial development of the West Side would compete with the needed redevelopment Downtown.”

However, Vishaan Chakrabarti, director of the Department of City Planning’s Manhattan Office, insisted that the Hudson Yards would not threaten Downtown. “We’re working with the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. to make the rebuilding of Downtown happen,” he said. “Some companies will choose Midtown and some will choose Downtown,” he said, “But the World Trade Center will redevelop first before you see a single skyscraper on the West Side.”

More than 200 people filled the Hudson Guild’s Fulton Center in Chelsea for the Aug. 5 forum, “Envisioning the West Side,” where Yaro and Chakrabarti clashed. Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff, Gerald Schoenfeld, president of the Schubert Organization, and City Councilmember Christine Quinn also took part in the event sponsored by State Senator Tom Duane.

Two days earlier on Aug. 3, nearly 700 people filled the Haft Auditorium at Fashion Institute of Technology to talk about what Jeff Mulligan of the Department of City Planning called “one of the most important initiatives in the city’s history.”

The Hudson Yards plan would transform the area between Ninth and 12th Aves. from 29th St. to 42nd St. to allow development of 28 million sq. ft. of office space, 12.6 million sq. ft. of residential space, high-rise commercial towers along 11th Ave., 20 acres of new parkland — including a park and boulevard between 10th and 11th Aves. — and, at a cost of $2 billion, the extension of the No. 7 subway across 42nd St. to 11th Ave. and then down to 34th St.

The plan to redevelop what the city calls “Manhattan’s last frontier” would require 10 rezoning measures, condemnations of private property and the city’s uniform land-use review procedure, which is expected to begin in the fall.

While the proposed stadium — called the New York Sports and Convention Center — and the Javits Convention Center expansion are parts of the plan that do not require the ULURP process, the 6,000-page draft environmental impact statement does consider the environmental impact of the stadium and convention center by the build-out, or scheduled occupancy, year of 2025.

“The E.I.S. indicates a traffic nightmare when the stadium is in use,” said Eric Goldstein, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council at the Aug. 3 forum. “For 11th Ave., 10th Ave and even Ninth Ave., forget about moving a wheel during peak times,” Goldstein added.

On special-event days — football games, major concerts — the traffic also would be very dense at 14th St. at the West Side Highway. Other expected traffic-jammed intersections are indicated at Houston St. at the West Side Highway and the Holland Tunnel exit near Canal St. On the East Side, Third Ave. at the 59th St. Bridge is foreseen as a traffic problem during peak hours, according to the E.I.S.

Noise and air quality would be problems by the build-out year, according to the E.I.S. Certain sites would be required to have special double-paned windows to keep noise down and air quality acceptable, the E.I.S. says.

Nevertheless, city officials say the redevelopment is vital to New York City’s future as a world-class business capital. But Community Board 4 and neighborhood groups including the Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance say the plan has no specific provision for affordable housing and that high-rise commercial towers on 11th Ave. would wall off the waterfront.

Chakrabarti, however, said at the Aug. 5 forum that, “An army of people [in city government] is working to make sure there will be affordable housing in West Chelsea.”

Existing businesses, however, are worried about being displaced by the Hudson Yards project. Anthony LaSpada, an executive with Mercedes-Benz Manhattan, Inc., whose garage is at 535 W. 38th St. and whose showroom and service garage are at 530 W. 41st St., both between 10th and 11th Aves., told the Aug. 3 forum that the Hudson Yards proposal would put the business, and the jobs of 240 employees, at risk.

Howard Hornstein, an attorney representing FedEx, which has a long-term lease on a 200,000-sq.-ft. building at 528 W. 34th St. between 10th and 11th Aves., told the forum that about 300 jobs are threatened by the Hudson Yards proposal to condemn the property.

The city intends to take the FedEx building, a former Post Office, on behalf of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build the terminal station of the No. 7 line extension.

But the M.T.A. did not send anyone to either hearing, lending some credence to the observation of Chelsea and Clinton advocates that the M.T.A. is an unwilling partner with the city and the state in the Hudson Yards project.

Joseph Restuccia, a member of Community Board 4 and of the Hell’s Kitchen/Hudson Yards Alliance, said that M.T.A. staff members have told Board 4 members that the $2 billion cost estimate for the No. 7 extension is a gross understatement.

Moreover, the M.T.A. owns the rail yards and the development rights for the proposed platform to be constructed above the yards. Those rights are to be sold to the developers of office towers along 11th Ave. But state legislators have been calling for the agency to receive all the income from the development rights and use it for transit needs.

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