Upper West Siders got their first glimpse of the size and scope of Extell’s Riverside South development at an Oct. 30 meeting of Community Board 7’s Riverside South Working Group. About 100 citizens gathered to see Extell’s 8.2-acre proposal to build four residential glass towers and one commercial tower, plus 3.2 acres of public open space. The development is slated for three lots of land on Riverside South, which runs from West 59th to 72nd streets along the West Side Highway.
Public comments were peppered with uncertainty over the details of the development and indignation over the size—some described the development as a “crushing, greedy project” with glass towers that look “inhuman.”
A common complaint from the cavalcade of speakers was Extell’s desired modifications to the “restrictive declaration,” a set of guidelines that Riverside South agreed to after the 1992 rezoning of the area from a manufacturing site to a residential and commercial area. The guidelines would have allowed then-developer Donald Trump to build 2.7 million square feet, including television studios. Extell President Gary Barnett, however, is not interested in studios and is amending the guidelines. The company is asking for an increase in residential, office and retail space, which could include a movie theater, automobile showroom and hotel.
Extell originally toyed with placing a Costco in the development, but they later nixed the idea.
The Riverside South Planning Corporation, a community group that fought for the conditions of the 1993 restrictive declaration, spoke against Extell’s plans.
“We support the inclination of the community board to ask that the City Planning Commission insist Extell adhere to the requirements of the restrictive declaration,” said Paul Elston, the group’s president.
The five buildings, collectively called Riverside Center, would be between 35 and 53 stories tall. All together, Extell’s desired amendments to the restrictive declaration would add more than 700,000 additional square feet to the project, expected to be completed in 2018.
Barnett, in his opening remarks, called the development the “crowning achievement for this neighborhood.”
The scoping process, the first step toward certification by the City Planning Commission and the City Council, is slated to begin Dec. 11.
Council Member Gale Brewer said she will press City Planning to move meetings about the environmental review and scoping process to a site within the neighborhood, such as P.S. 199, and delay the start until after the holidays to get more community members involved in the certification process.
“I just think we need more time to have a better community response,” Brewer said.
Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal said the “mammoth” development went above and beyond what is allowed under the restrictive declaration.
“We have to examine very closely what is feasible,” Rosenthal said. “A lot of people are dismayed about some of the proposals.”
Parents from nearby schools with crowding issues, like P.S. 199 and P.S. 9, inquired about plans for a new school to accommodate the families who will presumably move in to the new development.
Extell has built a shell to house the school, but the city would be left with the tab for construction and would be leasing the space at market rate—a difficult order to fill with budgets getting slashed.
Jennifer Beth Freeman, of District 3’s Community Education Council, pressed Extell to devote more money to school construction.
“Parents are counting on having a new school,” Freeman said. “We’re very concerned with the Department of Education’s financial resources to complete this development by itself.”
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