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Carter's View

The Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee has sent the Metropolitan Transportation Authority ten recommendations for the proposed redevelopment of its West Side Yard near the Hudson River in midtown.

Last fall, the M.T.A. received proposals from five teams for the yard's redevelopment and it is expected to select one soon.

The committee was formed pursuant to an agreement between the Administration and the City Council with respect to the Hudson Yards rezoning in January 2005 to advise the Hudson Yards Development Corporation.

Anna Hayes Levin, the chair of the committee, sent a 7-page letter yesterday to Elliot G. Sander, the executive director of the M.T.A., outlining its concerns and noting that "we are under no illusion that any of the plans will be built exactly as proposed."

The letter maintains that after reviewing the five proposals that "there is too much density" and that "the scale of the buildings is overwhelming." "The base floor area ratios (FARs) of 11 on the Eastern Rail Yard ('ERY') and 10 on the Western Rail Yard ('WRY') seem reasonable until you realize that they are calculated across the entire sites, including open space and streets. Excluding open space and streets (as parks and streets are excluded elsewhere in the City), the effective density over such a large area is in the neighborhood of 25 FAR."

The letter also maintained that "The Hudson Yards area's infrastructure is already strained and insufficient" and "simply cannot support such overwhelming additional development without additional investment in public facilities."

It also said that the affordable housing components of the plans were not "acceptable," noting that "it is appropriate that the MTA's drive for financial gain be tempered by standards of public responsibility" and declared that "the State and City must ensure that development of the West Side Yard creates permanent affordable housing opportunities far greater than the unacceptably small amount currently contemplated."

The letter said that all of the development teams have "commented to us informally" that the MTA's design requirements were "unduly confining, and several have submitted plans that do not conform to all of the design requirements," adding that "the non-conforming plans feature some good ideas that should not be rejected."

The plans "seem, to varying degrees, like private enclaves" and the letter urges that the superblocks be broken by reintroducing the street grid.

"Before we saw the proposals," the letter continued, "we thought the east-west open space corridor made sense, but the conforming plans raise a concern that they might produce a wind tunnel effect." "Separate, distinctive open space has the added advantage of being constructible in phases and not dependent on completion of the entire plan for the public amenity to be realized," it stated, adding that some committee members "feel that multiple open spaces with distinct programming will be better than one large space without a clear purpose."

The committee noted that none of the development teams "has come up with a committed user" for the planned major new cultural facility at the site and added that "several of the proposals strike us as primarily commercial uses, such as trade show/convention center uses, rather than the not-for-profit cultural facility uses required by the ERY zoning."

"Providing a notable piece of architecture at this very desirable, but it should not take precedence over planning for a real user," it argued, concluding that it believes that cultural activity at the site "can best be accomplished by providing substantial space throughout the development for smaller cultural uses, especially non-profit theatrical and arts companies and artistic support services."

Finally, the committee said that "the financial aspects of the proposals must be made public."
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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.