Volume 76, Number 10 | July 26 - August 1, 2006

Mayor and Quinn on same track on rail yard rights

By Albert Amateau

A year after City Councilmember Christine Quinn rejoiced at the defeat of Mayor Bloomberg’s plan for a 75,000-seat football stadium over the West Side rail yards, Quinn, now Council speaker, joined the mayor in proposing that the city pay the Metropolitan Transportation Authority $500 million for development rights over the yards.

The proposed deal for the yards between 10th and 12th Aves. from 30th to 33rd Sts. won accolades from Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and State Senator Tom Duane, but Assemblymember Deborah Glick had some serious reservations. Gene Russianoff, head of the Straphangers Campaign, a public transit advocacy group also had some problems with the proposal.

Jeremy Soffin, vice president of the Regional Plan Association, welcomed the proposal but suggested that the $500 million price was too low.

The deal proposed to M.T.A. Chairperson Peter Kalikow earlier this month called on the agency to sell the city the section of the yards between 11th and 12th Aves., known as the Western Rail Yards, for $300 million.
The purchase price takes into account the fact that a platform would have to be built to accommodate development and to allow the M.T.A. to continue using the yards for Long Island Railroad trains.

“The purpose of this acquisition is to afford the city control of the planning and development of the Western Rail Yards,” said the letter sent to Kalikow by Bloomberg and Quinn. After the defeat last year of the New York Sports and Convention Center — aka the West Side stadium — which was to be built on the Western Yards, the city wants development to be guided by a review process that culminates in approval by the City Council.

Zoning for the Eastern Rail Yards between 11th and 10th Aves. established last year as part of the Hudson Yards Development plan, provides 3.42 million square feet of transferable development rights for which the city would pay the M.T.A. $200 million to create a commercial district north of the yards. The M.T.A. would retain control of 6.2 million square feet of development rights directly over the Eastern Yards.

The proceeds from the city’s development rights sales would be pledged to financing the No. 7 subway line extension from Times Square to 11th Ave. and down to a new terminus at 34th St.

“I think it’s a good deal for the city, the M.T.A. and especially for the community,” said Assemblymember Gottfried. The review process for the Western Yards would give Community Board 4, which represents the Chelsea and Clinton neighborhoods, some influence in the development, Gottfried said.

“It would mean subway riders would benefit rather that the owners of the Jets and the wealthy corporate owners of skyboxes,” the assemblymember said, referring to the defeated stadium plan.

Gottfried suggested that the sale price was high enough to benefit the M.T.A. and low enough to allow the city to mandate moderate development density.

“The more the city has to pay the more excess development it would have to allow to justify the cost,” he reasoned.

Glick said a positive aspect of the acquisition is that development would go through the city’s uniform land use review procedure. But she warned that the Bloomberg administration has frequently favored very dense development.

“I don’t want the [subway-] riding public to subsidize luxury housing. So we have to be aware that the devil is in the details,” Glick said. “My main concern about development is density and affordability. Manhattan does not need any more luxury housing.”

Russianoff said he appreciated the community’s concern about overly dense development, but he suggested the M.T.A. might be shortchanged in the deal. He also noted that the city was pushing the M.T.A. to make a decision by the end of July.

“It’s too important an issue to conclude without giving the public a chance to be heard,” Russianoff added.

“R.P.A. welcomes the proactive step taken by the mayor and City Council speaker,” Soffin said. “But there are many issues still to be resolved, including reaching a sale price that more closely reflects the site’s appraised value, and it may not be possible or prudent to strike a deal before the end of July.”

“I like the idea of the city having control,” said Duane. “It means we’ll get better development.” He said the M.T.A. would benefit from the sale and the city would benefit in the long run from tax revenues from the commercial development.

The plan would generate $60 billion in new tax revenues over the next 30 years, said Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.

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