Scott Stringer Asks the Impossible, Wants Chelsea Market Expansion to Move, Developer Says It Can’t

A proposed 11-story hotel, which the borough president wants replaced with a bigger office building, freeing up space over the High Line.
One local architect has made the case for the move. (Architakes)

A proposed expansion of the Chelsea Market is as big as some of its neighbors. Does that make it acceptable?

Jamestown Properties wants to add an eight-story addition onto the western end of the former Nabisco factory, which already is seven stories tall and encircles the High Line. Jamestown argues it should be allowed to match its taller neighbors, sating demand for techie office space. Locals counter that to do so would rob the High Line of the light and air and views that help make it more than a glorified Midtown sidewalk.

Borough President Scott Stringer has decided to side with them, voting against Jamestown’s proposal to expand. Among the recommendations he made yesterday to the City Planning Commission is that the bulk of the project should be shifted to the Ninth Avenue section of the building, where Jamestown has already proposed adding a hotel above Buddakkan—another feature Mr. Stringer wants eliminated.

“I do think there’s merit to the proposal, behind tech jobs and bolstering start-ups and recognizing that Chelsea has become a small-business development hub, that’s a worthy project,” Mr. Stringer told The Observer. “But there’s a lot of moving parts to a development of that size, and going back to the rezoning of 2005, making sure the High Line was not surrounded by large-scale developments was something the City Planning Commission thought was very smart.”

“This goes against existing policy that was put in place,” he added, “so it makes sense to have a policy discussion about what is appropriate and what is possible.”

Jamestown has argued in the past that it cannot shift the bulk of the building east because of the composition of the Chelsea Market. Actually composed of 17 separate structures built over the course of half a century, it is a complex complex. Adding a structure to the eastern end would require punching holes through existing work space, whereas the western end has a more robust structure (it was built in 1932 to accommodate the arrival of the High Line) as well as unused elevator shafts and similar ancillary space that could make room.

“The expansion will be achieved without relocating existing tenants or any public subsidy, and will in fact generate some $7 million of new tax revenue annually as well as nearly $20 million to benefit the High Line,” Jamestown spokesman Lee Silberstein said in a statement.

Jamestown also argues adding on to the western end keeps it from overhanging the courtyard that lets light into the popular retail space below. The company has also questioned whether this would not require it to start from scratch on its land-use application, which would almost certainly never happen.

Borough President Stringer believes it is within the scope application, and underscores the community’s discomfort with the project. “These are all important questions we should be looking at,” he said. “I think the options need to be fleshed out.”

The proposal is not unlike one made by local architect and activist David Holowka on his Architakes blog (also pictured above).

It is likely this proposal could be explored in some form when the project goes before the City Planning Commission in the next two months. Unlike Borough President Stringer, whose role is advisory, the commission’s recommendations will be binding.

In addition to moving the office addition and eliminating the hotel, Mr. Stringer wants the height of the building reduced from 230 feet to 184 feet. He also wants Jamestown to set aside money for affordable housing, a provision the developer told the local community board in the spring it would consider.

There is an obvious political dimension to the project, as well, as it lies in the district of City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who, like Mr. Stringer, is running for mayor. Should the speaker side with the developer, the borough president could paint her as a big business crony, should she vote against it, he can claim she is following her lead.

Mr. Stringer insists this is all about creating a better plan.

“What’s the point of having the High line if you’re going to surround it with huge out of context buildings, destroying the High Line,” he said. “It goes against the public purpose of the park.” Scott Stringer Asks the Impossible, Wants Chelsea Market Expansion to Move, Developer Says It Can’t