Developers Want Easier Access to High Line Air Rights; But Should City Fix Something That Doesn’t Look Broken?

The allure of the High Line seems to be inspiring nearby landowners to grip their air rights tight, causing what some developers see as a shortage of development rights that could slow construction in the area surrounding the viaduct-turned-parkland.

The Real Estate Board of New York, responding to the concerns of multiple developers who were unable to find air rights to buy, has asked the city to consider changes to zoning regulations in West Chelsea that would allow for an easier transfer of those rights.

The city rezoned the area in 2005, allowing for a large district around the High Line in which air rights could be transferred, and also allowing for a bonus that permitted developers denser apartment buildings if they include one-fifth of the units as affordable housing.

“There seems to be a few developers who have encountered this difficulty, and would like to take advantage of the inclusionary bonus, as well as buy the air rights,” said Michael Slattery, a vice president at REBNY. “We’re trying to take advantage of a good housing market.”

The shortage could stem from the rush by so many landowners to build, as the High Line has opened the gates for a stampede of new construction in West Chelsea, with high-end ultramodern condos going up between warehouses and art studios.

“The amount of development surprised people. We thought it was going to be developed much more slowly,” said Robert Hammond, co-founder of the Friends of the High Line, which spearheaded the entire High Line effort. “When the rezoning was originally anticipated, I thought it would be developed out over several development cycles.”

Not so much. Mr. Hammond said that his group is tracking 41 projects in various stages of development in the blocks surrounding the High Line, which runs from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street.

Any action from the city, at this point, seems unlikely. A spokeswoman for the Department of City Planning, Rachaele Raynoff, said at first glance the zoning changes seem to be functioning as planned, though the city is examining REBNY’s request.

“So far it would appear that it’s working, but they’ve raised this issue to us, and we’re taking a look,” Ms. Raynoff said. Developers Want Easier Access to High Line Air Rights; But Should City Fix Something That Doesn’t Look Broken?