By Dan Rivoli
Community Board 7 adopted its own plan for the Riverside Center development July 22, essentially voting down Extell Corporation’s proposal.
The 42-page plan, which board members voted to approve 36 to 2, demands that Extell make drastic revisions to their five-building residential and commercial development. This megaproject would be constructed on top of a parking lot that spans West 59th Street to West 61st Street, between West End Avenue and the highway.
The community board’s vote, however, is advisory. In the next part of the eight-month public review process, Borough President Scott Stringer will now weigh in on Extell’s plan. The City Planning Commission will vote on the proposal before going through the City Council, which gets the final say in approving, killing or modifying the project.
“We want to make some changes that’ll benefit everyone,” said Mel Wymore, Board 7’s chair. “We’re hoping the borough president and the City Council will back us up 100 percent.”
Since the public review process started, the community board has demanded concessions from Extell.
The density of the project was a concern for the community board. Members wanted Extell to eliminate an entire building from their design and have the entire project clock in at 2.4 million square feet—600,000 less than Extell’s 3-million-square-foot plan.
With the Upper West Side construction boom adding new families to the neighborhood without providing new school space, the board wants Extell to build one.
Extell already agreed to build the “core and shell” of a 75,000-square-foot facility. If the city’s School Construction Authority wants to fund and build a larger school, Extell will provide 150,000 square feet at the authority’s expense.
But the community board wants Extell to foot the entire bill and construct the full school, including hallways and classrooms.
“Fully [funding] a six section K-8 public school built in the first building that goes up on the site is a victory for our community,” said Helen Rosenthal, former chair of Community Board 7.
The board upped its demand for affordable housing in the project. The report states that Riverside Center should have 30 percent of the residential square feet for permanent affordable units. Extell wants 12 percent of the units to be affordable for up to 20 years.
Other requests include that Extell hire a sustainability consultant and limit parking to 1,000 spots on a single underground level. With car drivers a minority on the Upper West Side, the auto showroom Extell wants in their development was a target, too.
There were problems with the proposed retail space, too. Board members complained that pedestrians walking along the perimeter of the development on West End Avenue and West 59th Street would have limited access to stores.
Board members spent four hours fine-tuning the language in their list of demands. The conflict between board members mostly came from those that wanted major concessions from Extell and others that wanted their demands to be feasible.
During a debate over asking Extell to bury a part of the West Side Highway and build a park on top, Klari Neuwelt, a board member, believed her colleagues should have gone farther.
“I don’t think we’re asking enough from the developer,” she said.
George Arzt, spokesperson for Extell, believed Community Board 7 members were placing unreasonable burdens on the developer.
“While we recognize the board’s hard work, they clearly do not recognize the difficulty in developing projects in this uniquely challenging economic environment,” Arzt said in a statement. “However, this is just the beginning of a long process. We look forward to the next round of the process.”
The community board does have support from Council Member Gale Brewer, who represents the spot where Extell wants to build. In land use matters, the City Council often defers to the local member.
“I will certainly be supportive of most, if not all, of their recommendations,” Brewer said.
Brewer was impressed with Community Board 7’s report, which is at odds with Extell’s vision for the site.
“I do not think the board is overstepping their boundaries,” Brewer said about the recommendations.
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