West Side neighbors have harsh words for Hudson Yards

“Obscene.” “Excessive.” “Exclusionary.” “Resistance.”

In playing a game of word association regarding the Hudson Yards mega-project, members of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance didn’t hesitate in expressing their dissatisfaction with the proposed development currently wending its way through public review process.

The organization’s Rail Yards Committee met on Thurs., Aug. 6, to discuss the western portion of the sprawling development site and to prepare testimony for an upcoming public hearing with the Department of City Planning. Following Community Board 4’s contentious approval of a plan that will compromise height limits in the Clinton Special District to accommodate off-site affordable housing, WSNA offered a more visceral interpretation of the ambitious proposal for the 13-acre rail yards.

“You guys can think of better uses for that site,” declared WSNA and Board 4 member Pete Diaz, speaking of the project’s genesis from sports stadium to a massive work/live community stretching from 30th to 33rd Sts. on the Hudson River.

In contrast to Board 4—which in recent years has expended great energy in poring over every detail of the Hudson Yards—some WSNA members learned of project’s impacts for the first time at the meeting.

Chief among the reservations held by the committee were the site’s use of a high FAR (floor-area ratio) to accommodate the development’s planned skyscrapers, the dearth of permanently affordable housing accompanying the project, and the lack of community facilities and school seats to handle the influx of new residents.

The seven towers slated for the western rail yards (one commercial and six residential) will utilize a 10 FAR per zoning regulations, meaning that the total area of all the floors in all the buildings constructed on the site must be no more than 10 times the area of the site itself. However, since the FAR was calculated across the entire site—including streets and open space, and not just the individual parcels—the effective FAR is more like 25.

“That thinking is so crooked,” offered Elaine Marlovitch, noting that the same calculation was not used during the development of a similar mega-project, Battery Park City. Yetta Kurland, a candidate for City Council Speaker Christine Quinn’s District 3 office—which covers the Hudson Yards—called the plan “unconscionable.”

“I think [Quinn] is a little too close to the mayor,” she added of why a project of this scale was allowed to move forward.

Additionally, not one unit of affordable housing will be included in the 6 to 7 million square feet of space to be built on the western portion of the rail yards, members explained. Instead, the affordable units will be located at two off-site locations: a Department of Environmental Protection-owned site on 10th Ave. between 47th and 49th Sts., and an MTA-owned site at 54th St. and Ninth Ave.

“I want you to pay attention to the fact that it’s listed as affordable, not permanently affordable,” said Anita Black, explaining that that 20 percent of the residential units are being considered for the state’s 80/20 program—which stipulates that 20 percent of the project’s units must remain affordable for low-income households, but only for a period of about 20 years.

When the units revert to market-rate after 20 years, residents are “going to have to move into senior citizen housing” if they can’t afford to stay, Marlovitch commented.

The group then discussed how the community board’s concession regarding the off-site affordable housing will force those buildings to rise above set heights for the nearly 40-year-old Clinton Special District, which limits buildings to a 66-foot maximum.

“We need affordable housing, but we’re forced to build upward,” Diaz stated. However, some weren’t willing to give in just yet.

“We cannot be pushed,” said Marguerite Yaghjian. “We can’t allow ourselves to give up on this. We have to take a stand at this point.”

Members also said that police and fire stations should be included in the plan to help ensure the safety of the thousands of residents who will move there. As well, school overcrowding on the West Side demands that more seats be added to the neighborhood. Members explained that the school being considered for the site only addresses the current need for additional seats and not future overcrowding.

“We can’t keep up with it,” Marlovitch said of the increasing number of students.

The project’s designated developer, The Related Companies, has estimated the site will require 1,300 parking spots, a figure that “traffic won’t allow,” Diaz said. He said he expects for Related to ask for even more parking in the future.

If anything, the meeting functioned as a trial run in advance of the public-testimony portion of City Planning’s hearing on the project scheduled for Sept. 9. The committee agreed to break up into smaller two- and three-person teams to focus on specific aspects of the development while preparing their statements. In typical WSNA fashion, the group also discussed making T-shirts, buttons and signs with “provocative” language to draw more attention to their cause.

In response to the wide-ranging criticisms, Gloria Sukenick struck a more plaintive—if not realistic—tone regarding the upcoming proceedings.

“We talk like we have power,” she said.

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