By Brian J. Pape, AIA
Stephen Ross, founder and chairman of The Related Companies, has been doing some back-tracking lately at Related’s Hudson Yards, the largest new development in the United States and the city since the Rockefeller Center development in Midtown during the Great Depression.
After Community Board 4 got a preliminary presentation recently about new ideas for the Phase 2 development, slated for completion in 2024, there was immediate blowback in the media, and elected officials and community leaders were up in arms; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, State senator Brad Hoylman, Assembly member Deborah Glick, Council Speaker Corey Johnson, HighLine Executive Director Robert Hammond, community board leaders Lowell Kern and Burt Lazarin, and HRPT chair Madelyn Wils have all spoken out against Related’s new idea.
That new idea was to break their promises to taxpayers by changing the site plan to include a parking garage that would affectively loom 20’ above the adjacent High Line Park. Related promised a new public school amidst the additional office and residential towers to be built on a platform over the Western Yard of Long Island Railroad tracks serving Penn Station, open park land (50% of the site) and a sloping lawn to down under the HighLine until it meets the sidewalks of 12th Avenue and 30th Street.
This expensive corporate park is supported by six billion dollars in subsidies and tax credits and other corporate welfare payments to the rich—yes, that’s $6 billion with a “B”!
Within days of the media exposure of this proposed building wall next to the High Line, Related backed off with a Twitter statement saying, “It never was in the cards. We were not going to build a wall by the High Line.” Sounding a lot like the alt-right accusations of “fake news”, Related claimed the news about the wall was “misinformation.”
This is not the first time Related has had to back-track; last year they instituted ‘free’ tickets to climb the “Vessel”, a courtyard centerpiece of gleaming copper-clad Escher-like staircases, but with a waiver that granted Hudson Yards the rights to any images or recordings made of it, in perpetuity. When revealed to the public, Related quietly changed the waiver terms.
Perhaps Mr. Ross is preparing for the next back-tracking after sponsoring fund-raising events for an impeached president?
A dedicated 4th estate is certainly to be congratulated for this exposé, but there is another unsung hero in this story: the local community boards. The community board structure was established over 40 years ago after decades of corrupt politics run by party hacks, giving out favors to get their way, with no one to stop them. Now, any change to an approved plan, or change in a special district, must be reviewed in a public hearing before the community boards.
Without that “grass-roots” step in the process, who knows what could get slipped in when no one is looking?
The district mandates a variety of uses, bulk and urban design controls applicable to six subdistricts. In certain zoning districts, the maximum floor area ratios of the underlying districts may be increased through a District Improvement Bonus mechanism (alone or in tandem with the Inclusionary Housing designated areas Program that would support financing of specific capital improvements in the area. Transfers of floor area are also permitted under certain conditions.
Flexible as-of-right height and setback controls accommodate large floorplate office buildings and allow for creative design within the predominantly commercial areas. Mandated improvements include retail use on major corridors, street wall continuity, pedestrian circulation space, plantings, subway entrance easements, and screened or below-grade parking. The district has unique off-street parking regulations that manage the total amount of parking that can be constructed in the district as it is developed.