Monday, September 23, 2013

Special West Chelsea

In June of this year, the Department of City Planning, under Amanda Burden, released a quiet little report entitled "Study for the potential expansion of the Special West Chelsea District."

If you've never heard of the Special West Chelsea District, that's because it didn't exist until 2005, when Burden and Bloomberg created it, rezoning the neighborhood around the upper High Line with the purpose of encouraging real estate development and supporting the growth of the luxury park (which also encourages development).

The city surely wanted to claim this chunk of Chelsea for the rich because it connects the fashionable Meatpacking District with the glittering neighborhood of the future--Hudson Yards. It was a vital piece of their ever-expanding map.

Immediately after rezoning, this long untouched part of town was evicted, demolished, scraped, and slammed with massive new condo towers.

Construction, manufacturing, and warehousing businesses have almost completely vanished from this area, while food, retail, real estate, and technology companies have flooded in, as shown in a chart provided in the study. But that's not enough for the City. In their 2005 rezoning, they left out a couple of pieces--and now they want to take them over.

In the June report, they praise the 2005 rezoning, crediting it for the influx of new, high-end office, hotel, and residential space, and they look at three "Study Areas," called A, B, and C.

In A & B, the southern study areas close to 14th Street, they recommend no change, except for the demolition of Prince Lumber (they got their wish) and its neighboring buildings for commercial re-development.

Study Area C is another story. 

Located to the north, this area contains a few valuable chunks that the city believes are being improperly utilized. The tone of the study is dripping with such paternalism--they know better and have ways of getting what they want.

The first chunk of Area C is the block framed by 11th and 12th Avenues, and 25th and 24th Streets. It contains the US Postal Service's Vehicle Repair Facility, built in 1988. The USPS, notes the study, "has expressed no intention to relocate the facility." However, the study also notes that the USPS is struggling financially these days and probably won't be able to stay much longer.

"It is prudent" to develop a plan for this site, especially because it's between a nice park and "valuable residential developments." Plus, the USPS site offers "unobstructed views of the Hudson River." God forbid those views should be wasted on postal workers.

How long before the USPS is made an offer it can't refuse?

Area C also contains the city-owned Department of Sanitation Repair Shop. They don't want to move either, "citing the considerable difficulty in finding manufacturing districts to locate such operations." The study says, in essence, let's leave it alone (for now).

Next up, some older buildings such as the Starrett-Lehigh and the Terminal Stores, are deemed to contain "vital commercial uses," "high-profile design companies" and "creative firms." Some of the Starrett-Lehigh's tenants include Martha Stewart Omnimedia, Ralph Lauren, and Tommy Hilfiger.

No mention is made of them refusing to relocate, probably because they weren't even asked to do so. The city has decided to let them be--because their tenants provide vital services, unlike delivering the mail and picking up the garbage.

Further north, the City also has their eyes on the block between 11th and 12th Avenues, and 30th and 29th Streets.

This block is under mixed ownership, including a gas station, a mechanic's garage, a parking lot, a loft building, and more. According to the report, this section is "underbuilt and underutilized," bogged down by properties that are "constrained by legal agreements that will terminate in the next decade."

Well, there's always eminent domain--let's see if the City can wait 10 years.

With the "High Line across the street to the north," says the report, "new residential development on Eleventh Avenue to the east, landmark buildings to the south and the Hudson River to the west, this block requires a structured approach to planning its future." In other words, bye-bye!

These aren't pretty blocks with pretty businesses on them, but they weren't meant to be. Before Bloomberg, this whole part of town was at the edge of nowhere. For decades, from the Meatpacking District up through Hudson Yards, it's where the undesirables went to do their business, chopping meat, fixing cars, pumping gas, parking trains. Out of sight and out of mind.

But Manifest Destiny moves ever outward. The towers will not be stopped. The High Line must have its views unsmudged by grime and grease. Only the pretty can stay.


John M said...

Can't we get rid of this jerk and his minions sooner than January? Please?

Charles said...

This is what happens when a city is "planned" by real estate developers. No concern for how the city works or balancing the economy. It's all about making as much money as you can as quickly as possible.

Caleo said...

What Charles said. So called city planners aren't interested in a real, "mixed-use" city. Different social classes and an organic mixture of commercial and residential, which is what New York always had until just over a decade ago.
I used to wander around the area described here back in the 90's. I spent many Sunday afternoons exploring the edge of the city.
No more.

sinestra said...

It is going to be hard to run a city when all we have are boutiques, condos and hotels. Cities have needs that aren't fun and flashy (like mechanics, hospitals, bus depots, postal and sanitation) If everything is moved elsewhere it will be a real burden to maintain the city services and it will put more strain on our crumbling infrastructure, but hey fuck it! Glass buildings and boutiques are totally worth it!

Uncle Waltie said...

People making less than 6 figure annual incomes should not be living in Manhattan. That's whom the goddess created Far Rockaway for.

Anonymous said...

I can't see why anyone would start and attempt to operate, to build a business in NYC only to have it erased by some mindless politician.

Anonymous said...

The block along Twlfth Avenue between 29th & 30th is owned / controlled by Joe Rose, former Chair of the NYC Planning Commission and Friend of Mike. No doubt this rezoning will greatly benefit the interests of Mr. Rose. Currently that "underutilized' block is earning Rose million$ as there is a deal with the PANYNJ to give access from that site for the proposed under-Hudson tunnel construction (now stalled, but still paying out).

Sinestra said...

Of course, 1:01- Mikey at it again- gotta give parting gifts to all his buddies before we tar and feather him and put him on a boat into the river, I mean before his term is up.

everettsville said...

This post is valuable for exposing how things really happen. People like to talk about the "free market" and about how we live in a capitalist society and how the market decides what lives and dies, blah, blah, blah. Somehow, government interference in "the market" that we call our lives (gag!) is overlooked -and even approved of- when it serves the interests of the paternalistic wealthy.

I believe the flood gates for this kind of white-collar theft were opened with a bad Supreme Court decision a few years ago pertaining to eminent domain in New London, CT which approved of local governments' right to seize private property and turn in over to other private interests. The right-wing faction of the court dissented on this. One the few, and maybe only times, I agree with the Scalia/Thomas crowd on something. Strange times we're living in.