Testimony by NYS Senator Thomas K. Duane
Before the New York City Council
Subcommittee on Zoning & Franchises
Regarding The Text Amendments To
Zoning At The Eastern Rail Yards

March 31, 2009

My name is Thomas K. Duane and I represent New York Statefs 29th Senate District, within which lie both the Western and Eastern Rail Yards and the surrounding neighborhoods of Chelsea and Clinton-Hellfs Kitchen. Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

The Eastern Rail Yards development is an historic opportunity for New Yorkfs future. By bridging the Rail Yards, a hole in the West Side which divides Chelsea from Clinton-Hellfs Kitchen will be filled with a dynamic new residential and commercial community centered around a large public open space. Moreover, the long-term lease of the land will provide the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) with a steady flow of much-needed capital.

The effort to build on the Rail Yards has been a long and, at times, extremely contentious process, thus I am pleased to now offer my support of this proposal. I am grateful to the MTA and the Related Companies (Related) for their commitment to working with the community, and for following some of the recommendations that Community Board Four (CB4), I and other local elected officials made during the development of the guidelines for the Request for Proposals for the site. In particular, I have long believed that the reintroduction of the street grid to the superblock bounded by 30th and 33rd Streets and 10th and 11th Avenues is simply smart urban planning. Related and the New York City Department of City Planningfs recognition of this and the subsequent change in design will ensure a development that is connected to the surrounding neighborhoods and has a distinct New York City context.

The text amendments themselves make small changes to the Eastern Rail Yards landscape, but as CB4 has noted, they will contribute to a much better thought-out development. First, allowing a residential building on the southwest corner of the site is a positive step toward creating a residential corridor along 11th Avenue, long a goal of CB4 and the community. It will enliven the neighborhood and allow for a more sensible distribution of development throughout the site. The amendment to eliminate the retail requirement for the community facility is a prudent change that recognizes the possible incompatibility of some commercial and community uses. Finally, the limitations on the number of parking spaces in the development, where they are located and how they can be accessed are testament to the hard work that CB4 and Related put into resolving this contentious issue.

While not part of the package of amendments being addressed today, I also want to commend the developer for agreeing to CB4fs request to reduce the number of vehicular curb cuts on 30th Street to two. It is important that 30th Street not become a block-long, back-of-the-house loading zone and instead realizes its potential, with its great width and position parallel to the High Line, as a major community thoroughfare to the Hudson River. In addition, Hudson Yards Development Corporationfs (HYDC) creation of a Construction Task Force will reap dividends in the years to come as it is a step toward a smoother process going forward, something which we can all agree is a priority.

Despite these laudable steps, I still have several concerns. As one of the most highly-anticipated and important public works in our City, the High Line has a role in the future of the Eastern Rail Yards and steps must be taken now to ensure that it is unobstructed and preserved in its entirety. In particular, the High Line at this site must be completely independent, without intrusion from adjacent buildings or unnecessary overbuild. It is also imperative that Related make a commitment to preserving the High Linefs Tenth Avenue Spur, which is potentially one of the most unique and dynamic spaces on the West Side and now faces an uncertain future.

Finally, the residential development at both the Eastern and Western Rail Yards will greatly add to the already overwhelming number of new residents settling on the West Side of Manhattan, and will thus exacerbate our current epidemic of school overcrowding. While I was happy to help secure a commitment from the MTA and HYDC to create a school on the Western Rail Yards, more classroom space will inevitably be needed and we must begin to plan now for the future.

The development of the Eastern Rail Yards is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. I am truly excited to have played a part in its planning and to add my thoughts on it here today. Integrating the superblock into the urban grid and adopting these text amendments will help ensure a lively community worthy of New York City and the West Side. Still, more can be done to ensure the success of the development, and I look forward to continuing to work with the interested parties and the New York City Council towards this end.

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