Riverside Center, a development that includes several residential buildings, a public school, hotel, auto dealership and two levels of underground parking, is being planned for the area between West 59th and 61st streets from West End Avenue to the Hudson River.
Philip Habib, a traffic consultant for Extell Development Company, said that the area will lose about 600 parking spaces and that some streets will be widened in anticipation of increased pedestrian and vehicular traffic. West 60th Street is being studied as the main pedestrian thoroughfare, while West 59th Street will be a commercial corridor. Additionally, Freedom Place South will likely be continued south to West 64th Street, bisecting the block between West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard. Elevators to underground loading bays are designed to get trucks off the street. Habib also noted that like many existing area residential buildings, newer buildings will likely run shuttle buses to subway stations.
Community Board 7 members and public attendees voiced hope that the developer would find creative ways to make the project environmentally friendly.
“They’re bringing in lots of new residents in all those apartment buildings, and they’re going to bring in lots more traffic activity because of their commercial uses. We want to see them do something in terms of the use of public transportation to decrease those residents’ dependence on cars,” said Helen Rosenthal, chairperson of Board 7, in a separate interview.
Board 7 has made no official declarations and has not voted on anything in response to the meeting.
Council Member Gale Brewer, who represents the area, said she wanted to see parking spaces set aside for more environmentally friendly forms of transportation, such as shared and rented cars, bicycles and motorcycles. At press time, the City Council was poised to pass a bill requiring spaces for bicycles in garage and parking lots. In June, the Council’s Transportation Committee heard testimony about a bill that would require spaces in public parking facilities for cars that are part of car-sharing programs, like Zipcar. The full Council has yet to act on that piece of legislation.
The meeting also focused on the possibility of a light-rail line, the re-routing of buses to pass through the area and the creation of Metro-North station on the site, a proposal that Brewer has long supported. Extell representatives pledged to make room for such a station should Metro North decide to move forward with that plan, a conclusion that should be reached in about a month.
Board members and residents also noted that the planned hotel has no driveway, requiring that cars drop off at the curb, a recipe for congestion. Many also wondered whether Extell had considered the possibility of the IRT powerhouse at West 59th Street being landmarked and becoming a cultural destination; such a move would complicate plans to make West 59th Street a commercial thoroughfare.
In accordance with the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), the Riverside Center project won’t be certified until an environmental impact statement is completed, but due to the project’s scope Extell has begun community discussions. The company hopes to complete the buildings by 2018.
“I think it’s moving along on track, and my guess is that we’re looking to be in ULURP some time in the fall,” said George Arzt, spokesman for Extell, in a separate interview.
Extell representatives said at the meeting that the project will continue evolving as more studies are done. Board 7 is planning another Riverside Center meeting for Thursday, July 30.
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