Related Not a Total Loser Today: Council O.K.’s Key West Side Rail Yards Rezoning
Eliot Brown Dec. 14, 2009, 3:38 p.m.
While the Related Companies on Monday was handed a rare, high-profile rebuke by the City Council over its $323 million Kingsbridge Armory retail project, the giant developer did happen to win the Council’s thumbs-up on another little project: the $15 billion West Side rail yards development.
The Council approved a rezoning for half of the 26-acre development, a planned complex of towering commercial and apartment buildings by the Javits Center, finishing a job it started in 2005 (the other half was approved in the run-up to the failed Olympic bid).
And, as usually happens in the worlds of land-use and government, the approval came after the developer and the city offered a set of concessions to assuage the concerns of the local Council member, which, in this case, was Council Speaker Christine Quinn.
The main deal struck was one over below-market rate housing, in which Related and the city agreed to boost the number of apartments with affordability restrictions in exchange for a “yes” vote from the Council. Related had previously had no affordability requirements on the project, which envisions more than 5,000 apartments on the western half of the development (the half that was being rezoned Monday), though the firm would be able to build more density on individual buildings if 20 percent of a building’s apartments were below market rate.
According to Ms. Quinn’s office, Related agreed to set aside at least 431 units on the rail yards for low-income families, and then to extend the length of affordability programs in five other Related-owned apartment buildings in the West Side. Taken with a city-owned lot and a state-owned lot on which the city would develop moderate- and middle-income housing, there are nearly 1,300 below market-rate apartments: either new units or ones with affordability requirements extended.
The biggest question with the rail yards, of course, is whether Related will actually develop them. The firm has until the end of January to execute a contract with the M.T.A., which owns the site, and Related executives have said they expect to do so. Still, committing to building–and starting payments for a price tag totaling $1 billion–is a harrowing task in this market.