The drawings released by Extell Development don't draw attention to the blank walls and curb cuts that would disrupt the sidewalk at Riverside Center.
A hearing on the Riverside Center mega-development yesterday revealed a popular hunger for a more walkable West Side and perhaps some interest from the City Planning Commission in the same. Extell Development is looking to build a housing and retail complex, including 1,800 parking spaces, on this waterfront site equivalent in size to two Manhattan blocks. Public testimony called for a slew of urban design improvements to their plan, including reducing the amount of off-street parking, integrating the site with the surrounding streetscape, and working towards burying the elevated Miller Highway.
As chair Amanda Burden and the other commissioners now deliberate over the approvals the project needs, they have the power to determine whether this block on Manhattan’s West Side will be dominated by the automobile or develop into a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood, in line with the goals of PlaNYC.
Efforts to better integrate Riverside Center with the surrounding neighborhood and streetscape got the most play yesterday. In Extell’s plans for the project, retail faces the inside of the development and passersby would see largely blank walls rising from the sidewalk, with the streets sloping down to the waterfront and the buildings stationed on an elevated platform. That wall would be interrupted by a slew of curb cuts to enter Extell’s proposed 1,800-space parking garage and auto showroom and service center.
“The development turns its back on the street,” said Brian Cook, the land use director for Borough President Scott Stringer. “It systematically ignores the rich context of the area,” explained Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore.
The City Planning Commission appeared receptive to this critique. “Does one see an auto showroom as something that enlivens the edge of the project?” Burden asked Extell president Gary Barnett after he testified. “What is going to energize the sidewalk and the street life at the front of this project?”
Other commissioners pressed the developers and architects about the effect of driveways, retail, stairways, and platforms on the pedestrian environment. The developer, in turn, outlined a few minor steps to address the issue, such as changing a staircase to 59th Street into a slope.
But one underlying cause of the streetlife-deadening platform is the excessive amount of parking that Extell is seeking to build, according to Ethel Sheffer, a CB 7 member and former president of the New York American Planning Association chapter. The platform “is there in large part because it satisfies an extensive request of 1,800 parking spaces on two levels,” she said.