Community Board 7 hires consultant, wants developer to bring site to street level
By Roland Li
Community Board 7 and its consultants presented a detailed set of changes for Riverside Center at a meeting June 29 that included eliminating Building Four of the proposed project and adding additional sidewalk space for pedestrians.
John West, of consulting firm Buckhurst, Fish & Jacquemart, gave a critique of developer Extell’s design, which calls for five mixed-use buildings and public open space on the vacant plot of land between West 59th and 61st streets, spanning West End Avenue and the West Side Highway.
The most drastic change is the removal of Building Four, the proposed 31-story, 400-foot tower in the middle of the complex on the southern end. This would create a large block of new open space with a number of advantages, he argued. The greater size of this area would allow for more active use of the space, including sports, and the placement of the space would make it distinct and more inviting. A view to the southern Con Edison powerhouse, a building preservationists want to landmark, would also be created.
Along with Board 7, West believes that the current design of the project makes the public space uninviting, because parts of it are elevated on a podium, while others are broken up by a water scrim and narrow pathways. Other concerns included the shadows cast by the new towers—four of which are around 500 feet high—and the belief that West 59th Street will be turned into a service corridor with the new buildings’ rear entrances facing the street.
Other modifications, which West described as “tweaks,” include additional sidewalk space and the planting of new trees on West 59th Street, as well as bringing most of the open space to street level and extending West 60th Street throughout the complex.
West proposed a number of alterations to the design that are being considered by Board 7 in its recommendation towards the project. He said that the overall proposal is solid, but there are some changes that should be made.
“It has pretty good bones. It’s just an issue of moving the flesh around,” West said of the project.
An Extell representative at the meeting said the company would need more time to consider the changes, and was resistant to bringing the entire site to street level.
“We feel that would be the wrong thing to do. We’re meeting the grade over most of the site,” he said.
West had suggestions for the new retail space as well. He wants commercial space that faced streets with more pedestrian foot traffic, such as West End Avenue, and members of the board articulated their support for new stores.
Two additional pieces of the project were discussed at the end of the meeting. The Department of City Planning and its chair, Amanda Burden, have expressed support for increasing the complex’s affordable residential housing to 20 percent, up from 12 percent, a move that Board 7 also supports. The fate of the school is still up in the air. Extell has committed to build a 75,000-square-foot shell, but the city’s School Construction Authority has yet to decide whether to pay for an additional 75,000 square feet, a move that parents demand to alleviate student overcrowding in the area.
A full Board 7 meeting will focus on Riverside Center July 6 and an official vote on a recommendation is expected at a July 22 meeting.