Sunday, July 22, 2012

Undoing development promises, in Chelsea and in Prospect Heights: shouldn't there be a quid pro quo?

There's a telling passage at the end of a 7/18/12 New York Observer article, Chelsea Marketing: Expansion Fits With Beloved Building’s Past, But What About Chelsea’s Future?, about the controversial plans to build on top of the Chelsea Market building, to take advantage of the High Line:
Architect Gregg Pasquarelli knows a thing or two about additions on top of Chelsea buildings. His SHoP Architects, better known for the Barclays Center and East River Esplanade, designed the Porter House across the street from the market. It happens to be one of the firm’s first successes, the dark metal box with the vertical lights running through it, perched atop the yellow-brick Old Homestead Steakhouse.

Mr. Pasquarelli has called it home since it opened a decade ago, and he said he welcomes his new neighbor, even if it will block his view.

“What’s wrong with congestion?” he asks. “I’m all for congestion, it’s the lifeblood of the city. The neighborhood can handle the density.”

This is the way New York, Chelsea, Nabisco, has always been developing. The city, Google, needs the space, needs the money. There is nowhere else to go but up. A development promise has been undone. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last. At least this is taking place atop an already big building in an already crowded district.

“I just wish they had been a little more ambitious with their design,” Mr. Pasquarelli said. “It’s fairly suburban.”
I don't know the issue well enough to judge whether the "neighborhood can handle the density," but I'll note that that's been an argument for Atlantic Yards: sure, the neighborhood can handle more density, but, for example, the amount of open space per person would actually go down, not increase, despite the much-promised eight acres of open space.

Undoing development promises

Writer Matt Chaban's observation ("A development promise has been undone. It is not the first time, and it will not be the last.") is both true and nonjudgmental.

Should one of the lingering questions be: when development promises are undone (see: Atlantic Yards), shouldn't there be consequences? For example, when developer Forest City Ratner renegotiated the Vanderbilt Yard deal with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, saving money by paying only $20 million down (instead of $100 million), and building a smaller railyard, the MTA extracted nothing in return.

The not-so-radical Regional Plan Association recommended "granting the MTA a greater portion of future proceeds, conducting a new cost benefit analysis and creating a new ESDC subsidiary to review design elements and oversee the development process as it goes through different iterations."

Didn't happen.

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