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NEW YORK CITY-A proposal for the area surrounding the High Line, an elevated steel railroad structure built in the 1930s, but not in use since 1980, would provide for more than one million sf of new residential and commercial development. The proposed Special West Chelsea District encompasses the areas of West 17th and 30th streets between 10th and 11th avenues.

The current zoning of the area allows for light manufacturing and commercial uses. Under the proposal that would be changed to allow a greater density of residential and commercial uses along the avenues and in the mid blocks. Currently, these sites are dominated by parking garages and auto-related stores. The mid-block area is also known as a hotbed for art galleries–as many as 200 have opened their doors in recent years. Further development of galleries will be encouraged and museums will be permitted. The city planning department also anticipates upwards of 4,200 units of affordable and market-rate housing to be added to the district.

“This is a comprehensive, yet site specific plan,” said Amanda Burden, director of the New York City Department of City Planning, when the plans were revealed on Wednesday.

“We want to create a vibrant mixed-use neighborhood,” added Vishaan Chakrabarti, director, Manhattan office, New York City Department of City Planning.

The High Line aims to be the centerpiece for the entire area. In 1999, neighborhood residents founded Friends of the High Line with the mission of converting the structure to an elevated public space. In December 2002, the city the first step in converting the High Line to a public walkway through federal rails-to-trails legislation. According to Friends, CSX, a rail and shipping company based in Richmond, VA, owns the High Line and the rail easement atop it. The land beneath the structure is owned in parcels by the state, the city and more than 20 private property owners. Earlier in the summer, New York City Council speaker Gifford Miller said there would be a $15.75 million funding commitment the High Line reconstruction. Total costs of the plan could not be determined as much of the funds will come from private sources.

New construction closest to the High Line will be governed by special controls that restrict height and setbacks. Property owners of the land beneath the High Line will receive a transfer of floor area to air space to buildings to the west. Another thought is to allow development such as restaurants if a developer agrees to also construct a stair or elevator for the High Line.

The plan goes before a scoping session in early October and a draft is expected in the spring. A plan for the High Line is expected to be unveiled next summer and the zoning changes could take effect in the fall of 2004.

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