Residents say no to Chelsea Market hotel

BY WINNIE McCROY | Citing overdevelopment, an ad hoc group of concerned Chelsea residents and community block associations came together at the Community Board 4 meeting on June 1 to oppose Jamestown Properties’ plan to build a hotel on top of Chelsea Market. The project, which would need a zoning variance from the City Planning Commission, includes a 250-foot tower of office space on the western end of the market and a 150-foot glass hotel on the eastern end.

“As co-president of Save Chelsea, I’m opposed to it because it is, in one word, overdevelopment,” said Justin Hoy. “We’re not opposed to development. In 2009, after years of work, we rezoned the Tenth and Eleventh Avenue corridor and a million square feet was added for new development. We also preserved several structures, and one of those was Chelsea Market.”

“Now, the Atlanta-based Jamestown Properties proposes to overturn the Chelsea Plan…[to] transform one of the most popular historic buildings in Chelsea into an overshadowed base for glass and steel towers,” added Save Chelsea co-president Lesley Doyel. “A glance at the rendering of the proposed towers dwarfing Chelsea Market is sufficient to characterize the Jamestown proposal: To add hundreds of thousands of square feet of glass and steel to the existing structures is not development, it is overdevelopment.”

In order to begin building, Jamestown Properties must seek a zoning variance from the City Planning Commission and the City Council that would include them in the Special West Chelsea Zoning District. In exchange, they will give the city $17 million dollars toward preserving the High Line — a plan which the city has already committed to, despite the lack of a dedicated flow of funds for the project. Hoy said he also believed the project would need a full Uniform Land Use Review Procedure to be conducted before it could proceed.

Shane Kavanagh, a spokesperson for Jamestown Properties, said, “We are in the initial stages of the community engagement process and we are confident that we will come up with a plan that continues to preserve Chelsea Market as a treasured resource and has the support of the community.”

“They’re already overbuilt. They’ve built their envelope on the space, and they want to be a part of the West Chelsea District, which conveniently allows the High Line to get 17 million dollars. It corrupts the whole idea of the High Line,” said Michael Levine, a Chelsea resident who lives in the Caledonia, close to Chelsea Market. “The developers were the ones who wanted to tear it down, and now they will be able to build up if they get to be part of this district. It’s just greed.”

Levine echoed other local residents’ objections to the overcrowding they believe the hotel will cause. He said that while he was originally drawn to the location because of the market, “The success has gone too far, and now they want to build on that literally with two massive towers. Why should they be allowed to change the zoning just to build these towers?”

“It’s hard to even use the Market like we used to,” Levine bemoaned. “The idling tour buses lined up on Tenth Avenue, the tours going through it; it feels like it’s not meant for the people who live here anymore. It’s a glitzy place that’s meant for tourists. The balance is off.”

Elizabeth Finkelstein, a representative for the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, said that the group was also opposed to the plans to rezone Chelsea Market — noting that extensive research on the complex had led them in 2007 to get the entire Gansevoort Market Historic District, including Chelsea Market, listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places. The building had originally been home to the National Biscuit Company (NABISCO).

“The proposed zoning would destroy the integrity of the complex’s design and ruin more than a century of successful preservation of this unique set of buildings,” said Finkelstein. “It would also upzone a block already zoned to a fairly high density, which already generates a significant amount of traffic.”

Several community members spoke to the area’s density of tourists, citing little need for additional hotel rooms in the area.

“The neighborhood is so overcrowded now. The High Line and Chelsea Market already draw so many tourists, and thanks to the five or six new hotels in the area, there have been over 1,000 new hotel rooms added between a two and three block area in the last five or ten years. I think people feel that enough is enough,” said James Jasper, a CB4 member.

Jasper pointed to a glut of tourist foot traffic, lines of taxicabs during the evenings and possible loss of light to the High Line as additional reasons for opposing the project. He also noted if Jamestown Properties were granted the zoning variance, it would set a precedent for other Ninth Avenue properties to request similar variances.

“What is the community going to get from this? Are they going to get more housing, or more space?” asked Jasper. “They’re going to get more crowds, more high-end tourists, and the only benefit is to the realtor. It’s not to the benefit of the community. In fact, they are actually ruining the neighborhood.”

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