Chelsea Piers, once a busy port, bustling with the arrival and departure of freighters, is today, a 30-acre waterfront sports village.
The block-wide marketplace on Ninth Avenue, which formerly housed the National Biscuit Company, a.k.a Nabisco, has been converted into the Chelsea Market.
Most of the Federal-style row houses of the mid-19th century no longer grace the landscape. Gone also are the dozens of small to medium scale industrial units that once thrived here.
“Nobody is manufacturing anything, anymore here these days,” said Anna Levin, chair of Community Board 4’s Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee.
That’s precisely why Community Board 4 members are pushing for a rezoning of the northern section of the 11th Avenue corridor that stretches between 43rd and 55th streets.
Under a nascent scheme, the 12-block-area, which is currently zoned as manufacturing, will be rezoned as a residential district.
Over the past few years, there’s been a steady stream of inquiries from real estate developers, evincing interest in numerous sites along 11th Avenue that’s a mix of parking lots, taxi garages, car washes, cars rental, and loft buildings.
Spurred by this, in 2005, the board developed a set of recommendations for rezoning. “We realized that it’d be far better to begin advocating for the community’s vision for the entire corridor than to be in the reactive mode of responding to individual rezoning requests from private developers,” she said.
Potential buyers, Levin said, would like to develop three types of projects: multiple-unit residential complexes, office spaces, and a hotel or a club.
While the board is embracing the concept of additional housing in the neighborhood, it’s averse to the idea of more entertainment establishments.
In fact, another reason for the board’s decision to go for a residential zoning is that it’d act as a bulwark against indiscriminate and random mushrooming of commercial enterprises, all of which presently take place As-of-Right.
In the recent years, “there’s been a bunch of development on 6th Avenue due to the Ladies Mile rezoning and more recently, development is springing up around the High Line,” said Levin.
Under the city’s zoning laws, as long as a new structure complies with all applicable zoning regulations and the building codes, a building permit is issued after which construction may begin.
It’s a near-automatic approval process that doesn’t require the discretionary action of the City Planning Commission or the Board of Standards and Appeals.
“Once we get rid of the manufacturing designation,” said Levin, “that’ll change.”
The board has put forward its recommendations to the Department of City Planning, which is in the process of conducting a study of the existing conditions.
“We’re delighted that the Department of City Planning has agreed with us and is moving forward with the preliminary work on a rezoning,” Levin said.
The Uniform Land Use Review Procedure—the official forum for public review and comment—is expected to begin later this year, she added. As a matter of procedure, all rezoning in the city has to go through this process.