In the latest of many development debates facing the Upper West Side, Fordham University has asked the city to grant it several variances so that the school can expand its Lincoln Center campus. Important questions about the project have been raised during recent community board meetings, but we believe that with some key modifications, the school should be permitted to move forward with the plan.
The need for Fordham’s growth is clear. The school says it currently handles almost 8,000 students on a campus designed for 3,500; by 2032, that number is expected to grow to more than 11,000 students. The amount of space per student here is exceptionally low as well: only 106 square feet per student, compared with 388 square feet per student at Columbia, and a national average of 360 square feet per student.
And these students serve the community well. Fordham hosts free legal clinics, sends teachers into public schools and brings expertise to various social service outlets throughout the city.
The expansion would add nine new buildings for Fordham, two luxury apartment towers to help fund the school’s endowment and commercial space. The center of the campus, bordered by West 60th and 62nd streets and Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, would offer space accessible to the public.
Administrators appear to be sensitive to the fact that the neighborhood has been nearly inundated with development projects in recent years—Fordham has not asked for additional square feet beyond what zoning allows, but instead has focused on seeking variances for building heights and setbacks, as well as curb-cuts.
Still, Community Board 7 has highlighted some problems with the plan. With buildings as tall a 550 feet along the avenues, Fordham’s project has the potential to become an imposing wall separating the community, especially along Amsterdam Avenue. The project is also fairly dense, adding more than 2.2 million zoning square feet to a plot of land that currently has less than 800,000 zoning square feet. The addition of two apartment towers also raises significant concerns about increased crowding at already overburdened public schools.
Fordham has already made some concessions regarding design and bulk; this is a good start, but more reductions are needed. The school might also assure the community that it will have a say in what sort of buildings will eventually rise at the site, as the master plan currently under consideration does not specify design elements.
We are confident that Council Member Gale Brewer, will be apt mediators for the discussion. With a little compromise and creative thinking, Fordham should be granted the right to move forward with this important plan.
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