Community groups voice Hudson Yards demands

By Alec Appelbaum | December 13, 2007 04:50PM

When New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed a
football stadium for the New York Jets on the 26-acre Hudson Yards
site, a coalition of civic groups rallied in opposition. Assembly
Speaker Sheldon Silver eventually killed the stadium, and the community
opposition remains in place as the Hudson Yards Community Advisory
Committee.

Its vigilance in watching over the far West Side site seems to be
paying off now, as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority expects to
sell the rail yards for at least $700 million early next year to one of
five developers.

In response to HYCAC pressure, the M.T.A. has committed to putting the
rezoning that will follow the sale through public review. The agency
has also demanded a public school and open space, and recently mounted
a three-week exhibition of bidders’ design models.

The massive project abounds with complicated objectives: the M.T.A.’s
Need For Protecting The Long Island Rail Road trains below, the
Department of City Planning’s design requirements, and the need for
parking and mass transit all figure to make the Hudson Yards buildout
slow. Given HYCAC’s history and organizing prowess, observers expect a
big, complex discussion along the way.

While each bidder has promised parks and at least 300 low-income units,
HYCAC is preparing a letter to the M.T.A. and the five bidders calling
for more moderate-income housing and good wages for workers. History
suggests the group — which includes all West Chelsea elected officials
— often gets at least some of what it wants.

So senior executives of Extell, Tishman Speyer, Brookfield Properties,
Related and the Durst Organization — all veterans of city politics —
brought their lead architects to a committee-called forum on Monday
night. In a community room at Hudson Guild, a social-services agency
Inside A 26th Street public housing complex, they presented proposals
on public space and affordable housing.

Committee member John Raskin, head of organizing for local advocacy
group Housing Conservation Coordinators, said the group wants 30
percent of all new housing to be “permanently affordable.” The bids
propose affordable housing units mainly under the 80/20 program, which
makes 20 percent of new rentals affordable. But because many proposed
units will trade as condos, the total affordable housing in the bids
could be closer to 10 percent.

Raskin said that if “developers and the government had put the same
energy into affordable housing” and workers’ wages “as into designing
buildings and gardens, we would have a much more solid plan.”

Raskin says the committee wants to negotiate in good faith and not stall the project.

“The plan is to appeal to developers, because they know financing, but
only the government [must] listen to us,” he said, adding that “the
state is fully capable of coming up with more creative financing
mechanisms for this.”

Committee members planned to discuss the community’s response from
Monday’s session at a meeting yesterday, and then send its letter to
the M.T.A. If the agency does not include any new priorities, HYCAC
could press the City Council to embrace them before voting on the
site’s rezoning next year.

HYCAC could also lobby state lawmakers to devote more money to
middle-income housing. The Hudson Yards Development Corporation and
M.T.A. have proposed locating about $40 million worth of
moderately-priced housing on publicly-owned sites elsewhere in the
district. HYCAC leaders say this proposal is too meager and ignores the
need for keeping the Hudson Yards project economically diverse.

Raskin said he is optimistic that the M.T.A. or the City Council, which
ultimately must sign off on the project, will take the group’s
priorities seriously.

“It’s really important to us that they come out with transparency as
they already have, but we wish there were more than what you can see in
a design plan,” he said.

Durst/Vornado has already endorsed the idea of “worker housing” in
the site plan and is negotiating approaches to financing such housing
with the New York City Central Labor Council, a labor organization.
Durst/Vornado spokesman Jordan Barowitz said including
moderately-priced middle-income housing “makes sense.”

Colin Casey, a facilitator at Monday’s meeting and senior legislative
aide to State Senator Tom Duane, notes that the Mayor Bloomberg and
Gov. Spitzer have promoted the same political goals as HYCAC.

“Whoever is selected will need the state’s and city’s support,” says
Casey. “Given that the project will be here for 100 years, all the
developers have expressed interest in figuring out a way that the 20
percent of affordable units can be permanent. The moderate and
middle-income units will have to have a creative solution, but we all
expect that to be part of the negotiation over time.”