Testimony Of State Senator Thomas K. Duane Before Manhattan Community Board Four’s Joint Landmarks Task Force And Chelsea Preservation And Planning Committee Meeting

Thomas K. Duane

May 13, 2008

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State Senator Tom Duane’s Recollection
of the History of the Chelsea Plan

When real negotiations between co-applicants CB4 and City Planning began, our community was in for some difficult losses.  Elements of the Chelsea Plan which had always excited the community found themselves on the chopping block.  The City seized the opportunity presented by our plan to allow for zoning changes that opened the door for large scale development throughout and surrounding our plan’s borders.  Much of 23rd Street went, along with Sixth and Seventh Avenues.  In 1994, various City Planning Commissioners joined me on walk-throughs of Chelsea to physically see the community at stake in what would soon be the City’s first 197-a Plan.  The biggest disappointment in the negotiation process was our failure to secure affordable housing in East Chelsea in exchange for allowing upzoned residential buildings.  

After years of advocacy by CB4 and City Planning to get contextual zoning for Chelsea to protect our community’s character, the Commission adopted our Chelsea 197-a Plan.  In 1997, the City Council passed the plan into law.  At the hearings that accompanied the process, testimony from numerous parties attested to the fact that one of the Chelsea Plan’s most important purposes was to ensure that the Historic District was secured; the Historic District’s low-rise character, and the light and air it allows, would be kept safe through bulk and height restrictions.  

Having watched Chelsea’s development in the seven years since the implementation of the Chelsea Plan, I am both thrilled and dismayed.  While the Historic District has remained untouched, our fears concerning high-rise development on Sixth and Seventh Avenues, 14th and 23rd Streets have been borne out.  Even Eighth Avenue has proven itself vulnerable despite our best efforts.  It is precisely because Chelsea gave up so much in order to protect our low-rise core that what we have left is so vital.  In no inconsequential way, what we have left is the Chelsea Historic District and the protections the Chelsea Plan provides it.