Chelsea Market takes second bite at affordable housing

Photo: Kwong Yee Cheng/Flickr

The City Council voted Tuesday to approve the expansion of the Chelsea Market in Manhattan, after securing promises to local residents from the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and from the project’s developer, Jamestown Properties.

The expansion will build office space on top of the converted industrial buildings that make up the complex but preserve the market’s original façade, while a community advisory board will review construction schedules. Perhaps most important, the area will get 150 units of affordable housing.

But for some neighborhood activists, the deal sounds like a case of déjà vu all over again, since two-thirds of those same affordable housing units had previously been sold to area residents seven years ago as part of another rezoning package.

“Those 100 units, make no mistake — those were owed to us,” said Andrew Berman, a former member of the local community board’s affordable housing task force. “And I think it’s unfortunate that it requires having to give away another upzoning in order to get it.”

Berman’s complaint dates back to 2005, when the City Council approved a rezoning that allowed new residential and commercial development in West Chelsea, along with the conversion of the High Line elevated rail tracks into a park.

Through a contentious land use review process, local advocates extracted several promises from the Bloomberg administration that were tied to the rezoning — among them, that the city would develop 100 affordable units on New York City Housing Authority property at the Fulton Houses, on West 18th St.

Those concessions — which also included additional construction at another NYCHA site, plus promises that 27 percent of all the new units in the district would be affordable — were touted at the time by Christine Quinn, the local council member who has since become Speaker.

But the affordable units at the Fulton Houses were never built, even though the city went so far as to pick a developer for the project.

“Ultimately, the project was stalled, as it required additional funding,” a Council spokesman, Justin Goodman, wrote in an email. While “steps were taken to advance” the development, he added, “it had no firm completion date.”

In its press release yesterday, the Council acknowledged that the construction at the Fulton Houses had been “long awaited,” and “previously promised.”

But as part of the new Chelsea Market deal, Goodman said, the Bloomberg administration has now committed money to the project, and agreed to a timeline that would see construction start in 2014.

The agreement has Berman smarting; he said that rather than trading additional rezoning in exchange for a guarantee of construction at the Fulton Houses, the Council should simply hold Bloomberg’s feet to the fire under the terms of the 2005 deal.

“When the mayor and his agencies did not follow through on their part, I believe it was the responsibility of the City Council, and Speaker Quinn, to hold them accountable…and I’m not really sure how or if that has been done in the past seven years,” he said. “It’s making the community pay twice for something that we were owed by the city, and never given.”

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