PROGRESS REPORT: Getting around town and our big challenge, Jamestown

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Corey Johnson.

BY COREY JOHNSON  |  Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen are changing. As the residential populations in our communities continue to grow, a host of city and state agencies, alongside the private sector, are addressing the logistical concerns of getting New Yorkers around town. There will be so many new options that everyone will be able to choose from: The new Bike-Share program, faster Select Bus Service, the extension of the No. 7 subway line, and the newly reconfigured Penn Station as the Moynihan project enters its preliminary construction phase.

As early as this July, New York City Bike-Share will install thousands of public-use bicycles at 600 automated docking stations throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. Bike-Share bikes can be picked up and returned at any station, making it a quick and simple transit choice. Local residents, commuters and tourists will be able to become Bike-Share members for a day, week, month or year. An annual membership with the program will cost less than a monthly MetroCard, and members will have unlimited access to bikes for trips under 45 minutes. Bikes are equipped with state-of-the-art locking devices and safety features, such as always-on lights, bells and GPS tracking systems. Mobile apps will give real-time information to users about station locations and availability.

Six hundred thousand people use Penn Station each day and the number is rising. This has created perpetual congestion. During the recent appointment of Patrick Foye to lead the Port Authority, Governor Cuomo also announced that Foye would take over control of the Moynihan Station project. The Moynihan plan will improve subway and commuter trains’ access by converting the Farley Post Office into the Penn Station transportation hub. In December 2011, the engineering, design and planning firm AECOM was selected to take on the construction work for Phase 1 of Moynihan Station. According to the Regional Planning Association, Phase 1 of the Moynihan project should cost $267 million and take at least five or six years to complete. Phase 1 should alleviate the dangerous amount of pedestrian sidewalk traffic around Penn Station by creating new exits, wider pedestrian concourses and sorely needed, A.D.A.-required elevators. These safety improvements will also help reduce overall commuting time and increase safety.

In addition to extending Penn Station service, the new Select Bus Service on 34th St., often referred to as “rubber-tired light rail,” uses a variety of techniques and technologies that will improve the quality and performance of transit much more quickly at a much lower cost. The new S.B.S. vehicles will have distinctive branding and will be low-floor, articulated buses, with an extra third door to allow people to get on and off faster. Bus service has always been vitally important to senior citizens and people with limited mobility. The new bus lanes will allow buses to travel faster because of fewer traffic lights, off-board fare collection with all-door boarding, and real-time arrival information, available by cell phone or over the Internet.

As an example of even further change, Jamestown, the owner of the Chelsea Market, has seen its Chelsea Market Expansion Proposal certified by the Department of City Planning. The proposal is to include the Chelsea Market block in the Special West Chelsea District, which allows an increase in the potential permitted floor area ratio (F.A.R.) from 5.0 to 7.5. The proposal also requires a contribution to the High Line Improvement Fund and the providing of High Line amenities. However, it would retain the M1-5 zoning on the Chelsea Market block.

If this plan is allowed, then Jamestown will be able to erect 240,000 square feet of office space in a new structure along 10th Ave. and 90,000 square feet of hotel space in a new structure above Ninth Ave./W. 16th St.

In 2005 Community Board 4 was co-applicant to the Special West Chelsea rezoning. We understand this rezoning and its purpose to provide opportunities for new residential and commercial development and to facilitate the reuse of the High Line as a unique public open space. However, this proposal creates a series of serious issues we must deal with.

First, there is the issue of the Ninth Ave. hotel that is included in the project. This part of the Board 4 neighborhood is saturated with hotels, traffic and noise. For example, the total number of hotel rooms near Chelsea Market is 1,104.

Second, the proposed 10th Ave. building’s height and bulk would cast shadows on the High Line and restrict views, and are inconsistent with nearby building heights in Board 4.

Third, the 10th Ave. building’s facade  — a modern design intended to “float” over the Chelsea Market building — is incompatible with the existing Chelsea Market and surrounding buildings, such as the Nabisco complex and the Merchants Refrigeration Company Warehouse.

Fourth, the existing Chelsea Market building has no protection for its historical importance.

Fifth, this project would create a precedent for the area south and west of Chelsea Market, leaving it subject to inappropriate development (height, bulk, hotel use) in the future, along with the neighboring sites (85 and 99 10th Ave.).

Sixth, were this proposal approved, it would add pressure for greater gentrification and, thus, rising housing costs.

Seventh, there would be even greater demand on existing parks and the need for more open space.

Finally, were this plan approved, there is the risk of the possible loss of food resources vital to the neighborhood and to Manhattan on Chelsea Market’s ground floor.

As we continue to review this proposal, we will need to try and find ways to mitigate these concerns. We have a public hearing scheduled for Wed., May 2, at 6 p.m. at Roosevelt Hospital, 1000 10th Ave.

We will look at the possibility of prohibiting hotel use on the Chelsea Market block; reducing the height and bulk of the 10th Ave. building; making the project’s facade contextual with nearby buildings; designating existing Chelsea Market buildings as New York City landmarks; and expanding the Special West Chelsea District, which provides height, bulk and use controls.

We will look at the zoning text and see how we can get a contribution to an affordable housing fund. We will also look at the possibility of the developer providing publicly accessible space on roof of the 10th Ave. building or contributing to a Chelsea parks fund. And we will work to add a food-related use requirement for ground-floor space.

Clearly, we have our work cut out for us, and we will do our best and work our hardest to see this work done well and to benefit the community.

Heraclitus said it best: “Change is the only constant.” C.B. 4 continues to serve as an advocate for residents and businesses before city agencies and private entities. We hope that you will send us your feedback on how we incorporate the public into the ongoing process. Feel free to send me your concerns at cojo63@aol.com . I look forward to hearing from you.

Johnson is chairperson, Community Board 4, which covers Manhattan between 14th and 59th Sts., west of Eighth Ave. north of 26th St., and west of Sixth Ave. south of 26th St.

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