Yards critic voted to Planning Commission

By Lysandra Ohrstrom | August 21, 2009 10:58AM

The City Council approved Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s appointment of Anna Hayes Levin to the City Planning Commission yesterday afternoon, bringing a long-time critic of the Hudson Rail Yards redevelopment to the 13-member committee. The vote comes midway through the seven-month public review period of the Related Companies’ $15 billion proposal. Levin is replacing Angela Cavaluzzi, whose term expires in September.

“Ms. Levin’s expertise will be of tremendous help to the commission as it reviews Hudson Yards and other major developments,” the communications director at the borough president’s office, Dick Riley, wrote in an e-mail following the City Council vote, but did not specify how Levin’s appointment might influence the outcome of the review.

Levin chaired the land use committee of Manhattan’s Community Board 4 from April 2001 to March 2009, and headed the Hudson Yards Community Advisory Committee, a coalition of community groups and elected officials set up by the City Council after the 2005 rezoning of the eastern section of the far West Side site to act as a consultant on the development plans. In both posts, Levin continually called on the city to respond to community concerns about traffic flow; the preservation of the northern third portion of the High Line; the availability of permanently affordable housing and the inclusion of open space and critical public infrastructure in the redevelopment plan for the yards.

“There is no conflict of interest in her participating in the consideration of this proposal,” a spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said. The Department of City Planning does land use analyses supporting proposals under review by the commission.

Some of the community’s suggestions have yet to be incorporated into the proposal under review, but Related said they were happy with her appointment nonetheless.

“Anna brings a tremendous breadth of knowledge to the [City Planning Commission] not only on this specific area but on planning issues generally,” Related spokesperson Joanna Rose wrote in an e-mail. “Anna played a key role in the rezoning of the Hudson Yards district, is a well-respected advocate for the community and will be a great asset to the commission and the process.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority awarded Related the development rights to the entire 59-block rail yards in May 2008 in a $1 billion deal, after Tishman Speyer backed out. Related’s plan calls for the construction of 12 million square feet of office towers, apartment buildings and parks on both sides of 11th Avenue, between 30th and 33rd streets.

In February 2009, the MTA agreed to delay closing the deal by one year and give Related an extra year to pay the $43 million initial down payment, but the company is midway through the land use review and rezoning process it must pass to build on the unzoned, western portion of the site.

The commission has scheduled a public hearing on the proposal for September 9, right after Levin takes office, and will vote on it by October 26. If approved, the proposal will then move to the City Council for a 50-day review. Related expects the process to be complete by the end of the year, Rose said.