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High Line Decision May Fall to Feds

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By Graham Rayman

September 23, 2003

The city is set to roll out more detailed plans early next month for the High Line, an unused elevated freight rail line over 10th Avenue that has been the subject of a long-running fight between property owners and preservationists.

But the future of the rusting iron structure, which has sprouted wildflowers and even trees over the years, likely will be decided by an obscure federal regulatory agency in Washington.

The Department of City Planning has scheduled a public meeting Oct. 2 to lay out the environmental issues to be examined in the Chelsea rezoning plan. Under the plan, the 1.45-mile, 30-foot-wide viaduct would be turned into a park from Ganesvoort Street to 30th Street.

In Washington, meanwhile, the federal Surface Transportation Board is still mulling the future of the rail line, board officials said. In 1992, the board ruled in favor of the Chelsea Property Owners group, which sought to demolish the entire structure as a "deteriorating blight on neighborhoods."

As late as 2001, the city agreed with that view. Then the Bloomberg administration sided with the preservationist group Friends of the High Line and filed papers with the board in December 2002 to take control of the rail line.

It is unclear, board officials said, when a ruling will come on the city's application. There is also a separate state court battle. The state, which owns property on the north end of the line, has yet to weigh in.

Backers of the plan say it would provide much needed park space.

"It would create a High Line district, just like Gramercy Park," said Robert Hammond, co-founder of Friends of the High Line. "It would knit three areas together."

The city's rezoning plan ends at 30th Street, leaving unclear the fate of the remaining four-block-long section to 34th Street. A preliminary estimate for conversion of the line south of 30th Street has been set at $60 million, Hammond said. A portion of the work would be privately funded. City Council Speaker Gifford Miller has pledged $15.75 million.

As for the overall Chelsea rezoning plan, City Councilwoman Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea) said residents are concerned about the size and height of buildings, types of housing and whether the area's sewage infrastructure can handle the demand.

In addition to the environmental review, the rezoning plan still has to go through the lengthy land-use approval process. "We're really at the beginning," said Planning Commission spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff.

Copyright © 2003, Newsday, Inc.


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