Fordham University’s expansion plan cleared another crucial hurdle last week when the City Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the Lincoln Center campus project.
“The City Planning Commission’s vote is as welcome as it is forward looking,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., Fordham’s president, in a statement. “We are grateful for the time and energy Chairperson Amanda Burden and her fellow commissioners and the staff have put into considering the university’s plan, and pleased that their decision recognizes the importance of Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus to the university, local community and to the city.”
The City Council now has 50 days from the commission’s April 22 decision to evaluate and vote on the proposal, which covers the area bordered by West 60th and 62nd streets and Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.
The plan has met with resistance from Community Board 7, a neighborhood group and elected officials, who have criticized the overall bulk and height, and have pointed to the potential for additional public school crowding.
Board 7 unanimously rejected the plan in January. But Borough President Scott Stringer threw his support in Fordham’s camp after he was able to broker a deal that reduced square footage, increased public space and access, and cut parking in half. The commission’s further alterations included tightening the undefined “building envelope” width and height along West 62nd Street, reducing tower “envelopes” on Amsterdam Avenue and expanding stair access and street trees along Columbus Avenue.
Even with the height and bulk reductions brokered by Stringer and City Planning, Fordham Neighbors United, a group formed to oppose the plan, still feels that the proposal blocks the community from the expanded campus and does not provide adequate public space.
“It’s still more of the same, which is tweaking the plan,” said Michael Groll, a group member. “It doesn’t address the overall issue of having this facility integrate with the community.”
Groll added that a second review of building design must be a part of the finalized plan. Right now, the proposal only accounts for overall space, called “building envelopes,” which are undefined.
Helen Rosenthal, chair of Board 7, said she is pleased that City Planning passed the new plan, but added that the design should be pared down further when the project goes in front of the Council’s Land Use Committee.
“We are looking for much more significant height reductions on the Amsterdam Avenue side and design sign-off,” Rosenthal said.
Council Member Gale Brewer, whose district includes Fordham, will play a crucial role in getting the plan approved by the Land Use Committee and the full Council.
Brewer has echoed the community’s concerns about open space, building design specifics, the impact on local public schools and height reductions along Amsterdam Avenue. She has also said that she would like to see Fordham play a significant role in after school programming at nearby Martin Luther King, Jr. High School.
“We love Fordham University and we’re glad they’re in our neighborhood,” Brewer said. “But this is a very fortress-like plan so the question is how could we benefit the university and try to have less of a fortress-like atmosphere.”
If approved by the Council, Fordham has said it will begin construction as soon as possible. The first phase of development is a new law school building designed by Pei Cobb Freed Architects.
With additional reporting by Charlotte Eichna.
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