Activists Pressure Pols on Northern Turn of the High Line; It’s in Related’s Rail Yards

While the bushes are blooming on the soon-to-be-opened southern section of the High Line, a battle is blossoming at City Hall over the fate of the line’s northern section. The battle spawned a rally earlier this week, as activists on behalf of the park continue to demand public supervision of the line’s northern spur. 

On Tuesday morning, about 70 supporters of the High Line Park donned bright red “Save the High Line” t-shirts and crammed into a small committee room on the 16th floor of 250 Broadway.

Technically, the hearing before the City Council’s Zoning and Franchises subcommittee was unrelated to the High Line – it concerned two zoning amendments to the adjoining rail yards being developed by the Related Companies that don’t directly affect the elevated park – but that didn’t stop Friends of the High Line from declaring it “the most important public hearing since 2005.”

“The whole of the High Line at the rail yards is not guaranteed,” testified Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line. Mr. Hammond hoped the sea of red shirts would help convince the city to take control of the section that crosses through the rail yards. “City acquisition of the High Line would be the first step toward preservation of the structure.”

The northern section was not transferred to the Parks Department in 2005, along with the rest of the line, because, at the time, the M.T.A. and the city were still unsure of their plans for the rail yards. The line’s current owner, CSX, appears willing to donate the remaining section of the High Line to the city at no cost, just as did with the preceding sections, but the city has yet to take up the offer. (Map of the High Line here in a PDF, showing its slice through the yards.)

The yards’ developer, the Related Companies, says it has included the High Line in its plans, and that it remains committed to preserving the northern spur as a public park. But Mr. Hammond would like to see the city take possession regardless as part of the land-use review process for the yards slated to start this summer.

“It would just make us feel more comfortable for the city to be in control, and for the ultimate decision about the High Line to rest with the city, and not with a developer,” Mr. Hammond said after the meeting.

The city appears unwilling, at least for now, to publicly force Related into accepting the park. The High Line is just one of myriad issues to be settled in the re-zoning process of the western half of the rail yards, and some suspect Related would like to avoid a public guarantee in order to use the potential park as a bargaining chip for other deals, such as the amount of affordable housing or the inclusion of a school on the site.

The meeting was moved to 250 Broadway after the Council Committee Room inside City Hall was closed for emergency structural repairs on Friday, and the cramped venue mitigated the High Line’s ability to show off all of its red-shirted supporters. About half were shuttled down the hall to a cafeteria for what turned out to be a two-hour wait before the rail yards amendments came before the committee, and many had left before chairman Tony Avella ushered in the standing-room only crowd.

Mr. Hammond of Friends of the High Line still considered the rally a success. “For people to come down and wait in two lines and then get up there to testify, I think there was a lot of heartfelt support that came across.”