Push to Shape Riverside Center

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Community Board 7 has outlined its most pressing concerns for the imminent development of Riverside Center in a letter to the City Planning Commission. The board reviewed and approved the letter at its Feb. 2 Full Board meeting and, after minor revisions, the letter was sent to the Planning Commission for consideration Feb. 8.

The residential and commercial project is being developed by Extell Development Company on the plot of land along the Hudson River, from West 59th to 61st streets. As Extell waits for approval of its building plans from City Planning, the board hopes that the city will consider the core principles outlined in its letter.

Ethel Sheffer is head of Board 7’s Riverside Center Working Group, which has been drafting the board’s specific concerns about the project over the past several months.

“A number of the principles are good planning principles,” Sheffer said, “that we think are important for the development of a very large and very important site.”

The letter outlines nine key principles, in no particular order, and then provides specific ways that Extell can align the development with these principles. The principles are zoning and density, public open space, connectivity and circulation, transportation and traffic, streetscape, retail/cultural facilities, housing, public education and sustainability.

When reviewing the letter, the board stressed the importance of designing the park properly. They sought to avoid shadows from surrounding buildings, and the “wind tunnel effect” that apartment buildings can create. The park, they added, should be clearly delineated as a public space and not appear to be a private or semi-private property only for use by Riverside Center residents.

Another important factor for the board was the inclusion of a new public school to accommodate the influx of residents. Board members suggested that the school hold 1,250 students from pre-K to 8th grade, and that it include an outdoor schoolyard and play area.

Extell also plans to build a movie theater, retail and restaurant space. The board said it wants to ensure that these amenities will be accessible to the public while maintaining enough open stretches. One suggestion is to build the movie theater underground so that above ground space can be used for a children’s museum or farmers’ market. These are a just few ways the board hopes that the new development will attract visitors and businesses to the area, benefiting not just the retailers who will rent from Extell, but the surrounding community as well.

The board’s principles highlight community accessibility, especially to and from West End Avenue and the waterfront, as well as energy efficiency.

“The community board is just very interested in promoting the best and most efficient and most sustainable form of energy use,” Sheffer said.

The board also stressed economic diversity. Sheffer said it’s important that residential units go beyond market-rate housing. She also said that the board doesn’t anticipate a large disparity in outlook from City Planning or from Extell.

“I don’t know if there are big differences; maybe they see it differently,” she said.

After City Planning certifies Extell’s plans for land use review, they will be officially submitted to Board 7. Following Board approval, the application then proceeds to the Borough President, then moves back to City Planning and finally to the City Council, and possibly the Mayor’s office, for approval. The entire process could take up to a year to complete.

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