Manhattan's West Side will soon be rezoned, but not as a college campus. An ambitious rezoning initiative meant to turn the far West Side of Manhattan into a high-density office and residential area gained final City Council approval last Wednesday.
The changes enacted by the full Council focus on the area known as the Hudson Yards, which extends from 30th to 42nd St. west of Eighth Ave., and authorize the construction of much taller buildings than the old zoning rules allowed.
The West Side rezoning is one of the largest city planning initiatives ever undertaken in New York and a central piece of the city's comprehensive plan for redeveloping the area. That plan includes the controversial proposal to build a stadium for the New York Jets, as well as a less-debated plan to expand the state-owned Jacob Javits Convention Center that was signed into law by Gov. George Pataki on Dec. 8.
Many Council members, including deputy majority leader Bill Perkins, who represents Morningside Heights and Harlem, and speaker Gifford Miller are bitterly opposed to the publicly-subsidized stadium project. The final bill did not approve any aspect of the stadium and left the issue unresolved.
But stadium advocates see progress on any aspect of the West Side master plan as a step forward for the stadium project.
James Whelan, director of the business-backed Hudson Yards Coalition, which supports the stadium, said it is only a matter of time before the new development goes through.
Council members also inserted a clause requiring slightly more than one-fourth of new apartments to be affordable to people making less than 80 percent of the city's median income.
They agreed to reduce the project's cost by nearly $1 billion by accelerating the repayment of bonds that would be sold to pay for new infrastructure, including an extension of the No. 7 subway line and a network of new parks.
Calls to Perkins' office seeking further comment were not returned.
The Hudson Yards are currently dominated by transportation infrastructure, including a storage yard for Long Island Rail Road trains, approach roads to the Lincoln Tunnel, and many major carriers' shipping facilities, in addition to other light industrial uses. City planners hope that increasing density in the area will hasten its transformation into a mixed-use neighborhood and its integration into the larger midtown streetscape.
But Elliott Sclar, a professor of urban planning and public affairs at Columbia, criticized the planners' efforts to move industry elsewhere.
"Industrial jobs support the rest of the city and the existing structure of the New York economy," he said. "The notion of using the far West Side for development is a good one, but I don't think it's the only one."
Planning experts say that it is unclear whether the magnitude of Hudson Yards rezoning will set a precedent for Columbia University's proposal to rezone the area known as Manhattanville in order to allow for the construction of a new campus there.
Julia Vitullo-Martin, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said that while the Hudson Yards plan demonstrated a general pro-development impulse on the part of the Bloomberg administration, "it in no way governs what's going to happen in Manhattanville."
"These two neighborhoods ... are very attractive and very underused," Vitullo-Martin said. "[But] every neighborhood is complex and a living organism unto itself."
Furthermore, she cautioned that zoning is not the only problem limiting development.
Columbia administrators involved in the expansion project had no comment.
Peter Marcuse, a professor of urban planning at Columbia and a former member of Community Board 9, said that the plans for both sites reflected a lack of comprehensive planning in New York.
"The connection between what's happening in Midtown and what's happening uptown is striking, because uptown also has the potential to do some of what is being done at the Hudson Yards and that's never really been explored," he said. "The location on the far West Side is seen at one point as being a potential site for office towers and an extension of the business district, and at the other as being a neglected and underutilized largely industrial area."