How one section of the High Line could throw serious wrinkle into Hudson Yards casino plans

The High Line at sunset
Timothy Schenck

Advocates for the High Line, the West Side’s famed public park, are concerned about major rezoning changes that could negatively impact the neighborhood if a plan to build a casino goes through. 

Friends of the High Line , a nonprofit that oversees many aspects of the popular park along with the NYC Parks Department, is asking the Department of City Planning to review proposed rezoning changes put forth by Related Companies, a mega developer that wants to build a full-service “Vegas-style” casino nearby. 

The location of concern is an area where the High Line abuts the Western Rail Yard site, which is situated west of Hudson Yards. It is sometimes referred to as the Interim Walkway at the Western Rail Yards.

Related Companies is one of several developers seeking licenses from New York state to build a full-service casino in the metro area. There are only three licenses up for grabs, and the process to get one is not easy. Developers have been aggressively wooing New Yorkers over the previous year or so about the benefits of hosting a casino in the city. 

Related’s plans to build near Hudson Yards became more real when the company released renderings of the casino project last month. 

Stakes are high for the community

But many community members and advocates, including Friends of the High Line say there is too much at stake.

At the core of the group’s concerns is a change in how the neighborhood will look. As per a negotiated plan from 2009, this part of the High Line, known as the Western Rail Yard, was to remain mostly residential to maximize light, air and views from open spaces. 

Rezoning, however, would allow for new skyscrapers and towers to rise — taking away accessible open space, or as Friends of the High Line put it, the neighborhood’s “character.”

In fact, the Western Rail Yard section of the High Line is often fondly to as the “Rail Yard Preserve,” explained Alan van Capelle, executive director of the Friends of the High Line.

“This is not an insignificant piece of this public park. It’s 20% of it,” van Capelle said. “It’s a very important piece of telling the High Line story to see a self-seed landscape that from the east looks into Manhattan and from the west as breathtaking views of the river.”

If Related’s proposal goes through, the company plans to build the casino above the Western Rail Yard, between West 30th and West 33rd Streets and 11th and 12th Avenues.

But van Capelle said he is “less concerned about the actual casino,” which represents only about 200,000 square feet of the entire development. His concern is more about how the rezoning could destroy the charm of the area. Hudson Yards on the east was originally designed to be more dense, Alan explained, whereas the western side was to remain spacious and open, per a 2009 agreement with the city. 

“Now, they are proposing the same square footage but packed into three mega towers with ginormous podiums that swallow that entire area and close it off from the rest of Manhattan,” he said. 

Friends of the High Line advocates said they have expressed their concerns about rezoning to Related.

amNewYork Metro reached out to Related for comment about the concerns, and a spokesperson provided the following statement:

“We look forward to continuing to engage with stakeholders across the local community as part of the city land-use process for the undeveloped rail yards. The new plan for the Western Yards has evolved to generate more direct jobs and maximum revenue and benefits to the city and state without creating more density. While maintaining previous commitments, including affordable housing and a school, the proposal improves the connectivity of Manhattan’s West Side with 5.6 acres of contiguous, open green space.”

Although the Western Rail Yard area has been closed for renovations for about a year, Friends of the High Line will reopen it later this month. Renovations will resume in 2025, van Capelle said.

“We believe that the community can’t really consider this rezoning and casino proposal without actually having access to view that site,” van Capelle said.