By Dan Rivoli
The commission came to a near unanimous 12 to one vote in favor of the five-building, 3 million square-foot residential and commercial development planned for West 59th Street to West 72nd Street from West End Avenue to the river.
“This is a unique opportunity to re-envision and reshape a bleak, eight-acre parking lot and former rail yard into an exciting addition and major amenity to this thriving West Side neighborhood,” said Amanda Burden, the chair of the planning commission.
Other planning commissioners touted the project’s public space, new commercial businesses and new affordable units.
Though critics of the proposal believe Riverside Center would violate the blue print for the area drafted in 1992—known as a restrictive declaration—Nathan Leventhal, a commissioner and West Side resident, believes the project is appropriate for the neighborhood today.
“If someone who lived here in 1992 left that day and came back this morning, they would probably not recognize what they see on the West Side between 59th and 72nd,” Leventhal said. “Just as our Constitution changes, as do most of our views to reflect current reality, so should our views of what’s right for a particular area.”
Anna Levin was the lone dissenter on the City Planning Commission and voted against modifying the 1992 restrictive declaration that would allow the development to be built. Levin was concerned with density and the unsettled issue of funding and building a new 150,000 square-foot school.
Levin believes the issues will be addressed as negotiations continue at the City Council, but, she added, “They haven’t been addressed yet.”
Karen Phillips, who “reluctantly” voted in favor of the project, wanted additional on-site affordable housing and a better design.
“I feel that there is more that could be done to optimize this opportunity, which is one of the last large-scale sights for the city and this neighborhood,” Phillips said. “But I want to have an affirmative vote today but one that says, I don’t think it’s done yet.”
This is the first affirmative vote on a project since the developer Extell started the public review process. Community Board 7 was the first to weigh in with an advisory opinion and panned the project. The board members felt Riverside Center was too dense, the designed open space was uninviting to the public and that the developer should fund construction of the new school.
Borough President Scott Stringer echoed those concerns in his own advisory opinion.
Despite the Planning Commission’s accolades for the project there were commissioners that had reservations.
There is another opportunity for changes to Riverside Center. Now that the City Planning Commission has approved the project, the City Council must ultimately sign off.
George Arzt, the spokesperson for the developer, released a statement saying that Extell was “immensely gratified” by the vote.
“We are equally thankful for the laudatory words of support from Commission members,” Arzt said in the statement. “We look forward to proceeding with the Land Use process and continuing to work collaboratively with Community Board members and elected officials.”
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