Last night's unveiling of the design guidelines for the development of the West Side's Hudson Yards at a public forum marks the beginning of the next battle over the site's development. The Bloomberg administration failed to win public support to build a stadium on the 26-acre, Metropolitan Transportation Authority-owned parcel two years ago. The MTA is now readying
to sell the long-unused rail yards to a private developer.
The Hudson Yards Development Corporation and the MTA presented a plan they say addresses community concerns while achieving maximum possible revenue for the MTA. The authority will likely make more than $1 billion from the sale. The current design guidelines call for 20 percent of rental housing built on the site to be affordable, and for the future developer to build additional affordable housing offsite. The guidelines also seek to preserve the southern section of the High Line included in the site, and for a large swath of open space to be built in the middle of any development.
According to the plan, the northern end of the yard will be zoned for residential and commercial buildings, while the southern end will be for residential use only. The guidelines do not specify a maximum height on buildings, but most buildings could be constructed to around 60 stories given the area's zoning.
Some housing activists said the affordable housing called for is not enough.
"It is not an acceptable solution for the last site we can develop in our community," said Sarah Desmond, the executive director of Housing Preservation Coordinators, an affordable housing advocacy group.
In addition, some community leaders said the plan does not adequately address the infrastructure needs of a community that is projected to include some 6,000 new residents.
"We need to push to make sure we are planning for the future," said Anna Levin, Land Use Committee Chairwoman for Community Board 4, which is working with the HYDC to incorporate community concerns into plans for the site. Levin noted that the site will demand more police and fire protection, schools, libraries and day care centers, along with transportation and sewage capabilities. The plan calls for extension of the 7 subway line into the neighborhood, along with the construction of a school, but it does not address the other issues, she said.
The MTA's financial future plays heavily into the development of Hudson Yards. MTA officials and Ann Weisbrod, president of the HYDC, said the MTA will seek to maximize profits on the site.
That bottom line will impact the High Line.
The guidelines call for the abandoned elevated train tracks to be preserved in their current form at the southern end of the site. Work on the future High Line Park, which involves the restoration of tracks from the West Village through Chelsea, is under way immediately south of the Hudson Yards. Weisbrod cautioned that the portion of the High Line in the Hudson Yards site will not necessarily remain permanently. She said the MTA's request for proposals will call for all developers to submit plans that both include and do not include the High Line. Weisbrod said the cost of retaining the High Line will dictate how the MTA proceeds in its selection of a developer.
"If it costs a lot of money, should the MTA take less money?" Weisbrod noted.
While many of the speakers took the stage to denounce the MTA and call for more affordable housing, some suggested alternative plans for the site. One resident proposed scraping the entire plan and instead called for the construction of a domed water park, with the park's revenue funneled into the development of affordable housing.
While the release of the design guidelines is just the beginning of a lengthy public review process, a battle is brewing, and community advocates want the MTA to know they will be watching.
"The MTA is out to make as much money as possible," said Community Board 4 member Tony Simone. "It is key that the MTA remember the community."
The MTA will release a request for proposals later this month that will be due back in September. A selection committee that includes city officials will select the winning developer. By John Celock