Fordham University’s plan to expand its Lincoln Center campus hit a snag last week when Community Board 7’s Land Use Committee voted unanimously against the project. The plans were frequently referred to as a “fortress” by local residents and elected officials who attended the Dec. 16 meeting.
Fordham wants to expand the campus to meet the growing student population, but critics say the design is introverted and created to keep Upper West Siders from using the public space that is to be created in the center of the campus.
“That was a concern we had in the original go-around,” said board chair Helen Rosenthal, referring to Fordham’s original plan introduced two years ago. “That’s been a disappointment.”
The project would add nine new buildings for dormitories, apartments, a library and graduate programs. Commercial businesses would operate on the street level.
Most of these new buildings are on the perimeter of a “superblock”—the area between West 60th and 62nd streets and Amsterdam and Columbus avenues—with the middle of the campus available for public use. The highest buildings along the perimeter reach 550 feet while buildings in the mid-block are around 300 feet.
“The bulk should be distributed in a more neighborhood friendly way,” said State Sen. Thomas Duane. “We have, if not a legal right, a moral right to insist on better distribution.”
Duane and Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Assembly members Linda Rosenthal and Richard Gottfried penned a letter condemning the plan. At the meeting, a staffer to Rosenthal read the more scathing portions of the letter, which was met with applause.
Residents also lambasted the open public space as anything but, due to the need for a staircase to reach the elevated plaza.
For Fordham to complete its vision, the plan must receive zoning waivers for building height, setbacks and curb cuts for parking garages. To help fund the plan, Fordham is looking to construct two 50-plus story towers—on the corners of West 60th and 62nd streets along Amsterdam Avenue—to sell to private developers for residential use. As with any project with a housing component, residents worried that new families would exacerbate the overcrowding problem in District 3.
Critics who testified in front of the committee urged Fordham to build on the property “as of right,” that is, without special zoning permits. The plan would shorten the height of buildings on the perimeter and place taller buildings in center of the campus.
Michael Groll, president of a building co-op at 44 W. 62nd St. and frequent critic of the Fordham plan, told the subcommittee that Fordham should not be given zoning permits.
“Build ‘as of right.’ It’ll be better for the community,” Groll said.
Fordham’s plan has met with criticism since its inception. The university has altered previous versions to meet community demands and concerns, by including new public access points on the front of West 60th Street, redesigning staircases to improve visibility and reducing the height of the Columbus Avenue buildings with more bulk pushed back from the street.
The full board is scheduled to vote on the plan on Jan. 6, 2009, and Fordham said it would not comment until that point. However, the university issued a statement regarding the committee’s hearing.
“The university is engaged in an ongoing discussion with the Community Board and our West Side neighbors about the plan for our Lincoln Center campus,” said Rob Howe, director of communication for Fordham University. “Fordham has addressed specific community concerns in revisions to the plan, and will continue to discuss solutions that serve both community and university needs.”
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