The Greening of Riverside Center

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At previous Riverside Center Working Group meetings, Extell Development Company’s representatives have been the leaders, presenting plans and studies about their project, which stretches from West 59th to 61st streets between West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard. But at Community Board 7’s July 30 meeting, Extell’s team occupied the entire back row of seats for the public, where they scribbled notes and exchanged the occasional whispered comment or snicker.

That’s because the developer had no information to present about the board’s suggested meeting topic: environmental sustainability. Instead, the chair of Board 7’s Green Committee read aloud sustainability concerns, covering topics like

Board 7’s Green Committee catalogued its sustainability concerns for the Riverside Center project, which stretches from West 59th to 61st streets between West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

Board 7’s Green Committee catalogued its sustainability concerns for the Riverside Center project, which stretches from West 59th to 61st streets between West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard. Photo by Andrew Schwartz

green building standards, an underground “Energy District” that could efficiently provide heating, cooling and electricity, and the use of “greywater” for irrigation and industrial uses. Extell representatives mostly declined to respond, noting that they were present only to listen. After the meeting, the board sent questions to the developer in hopes of a reply.

In a statement, George Arzt, a spokesman for Extell, said, “As we stated at the meeting, we are reviewing these issues and will be addressing them during the ULURP process,” using the acronym for the city’s land-use review procedure.

At the meeting, Extell representatives mentioned that they are currently in the process of studying cogeneration, when heat from generating electricity is used to heat and cool buildings and produce hot water. And in response to concerns about too many parking spaces, representatives said the number was carefully chosen based on current use and proposed future demand.

Participants also once again raised the possibility of including a Metro North station on or near the site. Dan Brucker, a spokesperson for Metro North, said in a separate interview that in the coming weeks, the agency plans to involve the public, local businesses and government officials in discussions about the proposal.

“We are definitely considering it, and considering it seriously, because indeed we do want to serve that area, and we think there are many benefits for it,” he said.

Although the meeting was billed as a discussion focused on sustainability, architect Paul Willen presented “A New Proposal for Riverside Center.” Willen is an advisor for the Riverside South Planning Corporation, but the proposal was his independent work in collaboration with Dan Gutman.

Willen pointed out that the “green” space in the current proposal seems “private” and inward looking, ill-suited for public activity. The arrangement of buildings would create shadows, limiting direct sunlight in the park, and would prohibit direct access to the waterfront park and the Con Edison IRT powerhouse, which is being considered for landmark status. Willen proposed removing one of the buildings to solve the problem.

Another plan presented at the meeting came from Craig Whitaker, an architect working for the Coalition for a Livable West Side. Whitaker pointed out that under the current arrangement, retail planned within the project will be difficult to sell, as it will face park area rather than highly traversed streets. He added that most of the park space doesn’t feel like true public space because it is situated among scattered buildings. Whitaker suggested clearly separating buildings from the park area, using gridded streets to delineate the park border in a similar fashion to Gramercy and Washington Square parks. The arrangement would have all buildings facing the park, and would create approximately two acres of true public space. He added that in many of the possible configurations for such a plan, the developer would actually have more land on which to build. Moreover, the streets and park could be installed before the buildings are constructed, allowing the community to enjoy the park before the project’s 2018 completion.

Helen Rosenthal, chair of Community Board 7, hopes the Riverside Center Working Group can meet in September to discuss a status update and community concerns. Once Extell’s application is certified by the Department of City Planning, which will likely happen this fall, the board will have 60 days to issue a formal recommendation.

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