At First Riverside Center Hearing, Planning Commission Quiet on Parking

RiversideSubcellar_Parking.pngOn the west side of Manhattan, Extell Development is proposing to build two levels of below-ground parking, each covering most of the two-block footprint of the Riverside Center site. Image: Extell Development [PDF]

The City Planning Commission certified Extell Development’s parking-filled Riverside Center proposal yesterday afternoon, setting in motion the city’s land use review process. Certification is more about completing paperwork than rendering judgment, but the discussion of the proposal did offer a few clues about which aspects of the three-million square foot project are front and center in the minds of planning commissioners.

Although commissioners raised questions about the pedestrian
environment, no one asked specifically about Extell’s requests for
special permits to build 1,800 underground parking spaces and the five
curb cuts that will provide access to them.

Still, approval of Extell’s current proposal appears far from predetermined. "As you might imagine, we have some problems with that proposal, and we
will discuss it extensively during the public review process," City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden announced at one point, interrupting the presentation of the project.

The provision of affordable housing looks to be the most contentious issue. Although Extell is seeking a raft of revisions to an earlier development pact, the developer wants to build the same amount of affordable housing offered when that agreement was reached 17 years ago. Burden made clear that she believes times have changed since 1993, and that Extell will have to include more robust affordable housing provisions to pass muster.

Commissioner Anna Levin came the closest to raising the issue of excessive parking, when she asked about the car dealership and service center included in Extell’s proposal. She called for "a larger discussion about policy" in an area that she said "has historically been Auto Row, but let’s face it, isn’t anymore." She implied that the commission ought to take a hard look at the centrality of the automobile along Manhattan’s far west side, noting that a certification hearing wasn’t the time to do so.

After yesterday’s hearing, the Riverside Center proposal now moves into the public review process. Manhattan Community Board 7 gets a look at the project next; it has 60 days to hold a public hearing and issue its recommendations. After that, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has 30 days to make his recommendations. The City Planning Commission gets another look at Riverside Center at that point, issuing official approvals, disapprovals, or modifications to the plan. That step, the first with binding power, is currently scheduled for September 15.

The City Council gets the final say, with the ability to approve, reject, or modify whatever reaches it. The council is likely to show significant deference to local Council Member Gale Brewer, who has indicated that she believes the Extell proposal includes too much parking.