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Carter's View

The West Side Neighborhood Alliance, a community-based group in Chelsea, published an article yesterday in this week's edition of Chelsea Now criticizing the agreement about affordable housing at the Western and Eastern rail yards of the Metropoitan Transportation Authority in West Midtown made by the authority and The Related Companies and Goldman Sachs, the designated developer. That agreement is due to be finalized January 31, 2010.

The Alliance had been organized originally in opposition to the stadium proposed for the site, and has since participated in the process of the rezoning of the site since the Authority awarded the development contract to Related and Goldman Sachs in 2007.

In its article, the organization stated that "While we feel the development of this property for commercial and residential use is a step in the right direction, there are crucial points where the project, as it stands, is simply unsatisfactory."

"To begin with, the planned construction is staggering in scale, with residential buildings reaching heights of 450 to 810 feet (81 to 95 floors) and commercial space soaring to heights of 810 to 950 feet, towering over the surrounding area....Five-thousand residential units were projected for the site. Our position was that at least 20 to 30 percent of the on-site units should be allocated for permanently affordable housing, including two- and three-bedroom family units," the article continued.

Related, citing the $1 billion dollar sale price set by the MTA and the $1 billion needed to build a platform over the yards, has maintained that it could not afford to build any permanently affordable housing on the site and that it could only provide 431 "affordable" units for the life of the mortgage.

"Eleventh-hour negotiations by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and her staff were successful in securing additional community benefits, including the preservation of existing affordable housing already owned by Related and permanent affordability for those 431 units. In the end, only 5 to 10 percent of the residential units built over the publicly owned rail yards will be permanently affordable," the article maintained.

"After the rezoning, despite the laudatory press and declarations by the mayor that the area is finally poised to become a vibrant new residential and commercial neighborhood, the site will still represent an enclave of high-rise, high-income housing--or 'Dubai on the Hudson.' It is unlikely that anybody working in these new commercial buildings will be able to afford to live in the new residential buildings. As with many other upscale areas of Manhattan, those wealthy enough to buy or rent these properties may be more inclined to visit their apartments than actually live in them. Our community should expect more from such large-scale developments," the article said.

The group said it will "continue the fight for development that will better serve the surrounding communities and to prevent this once colorful and iconoclastic town from becoming something it should never be: Exclusive."
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.