It has not been a good day for Gary Barnett and his Extell Development. First, the Post‘s ur-real estate columnist Steve Cuozzo gave Barnett a hard time for delays at his skyline-bursting Carnegie 57. (How come Tony Malkin didn’t complain about this one, by the way?) And this evening, Borough President Scott Stringer has announced he is giving the project his ULURP thumbs down. What more does everyone want? Barnett has promised to build a school, to up the affordable housing from 12 percent to 20 percent, and he has hired one hell of an architect. But this is far from enough apparently, given Stringer’s strongly worded announcement.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to ULURP: community boards and BPs who do not like a project can either approve with modifications or disapprove with modifications. Though there is an open debate as to which sends a stronger message to the City Council, which has ultimate say on land-use projects, Stringer tends to subscribe to the former school, saying “yes, but” far more than he says “no, but.” In other words, a “no” from Stringer is a rare thing (see: 15 Penn, Manhattanville, etc.) and should probably give Barnett pause. Here is the rationale, from Stringer’s announcement:
Riverside Center development is the largest development site remaining on the Upper West Side. The proposal includes five mixed-use buildings, 1,800 public parking spaces, an elementary/middle school, 135,000 SF of ground-floor retail, and an automobile showroom and service center. Its redevelopment has the potential to improve existing site conditions, create thousands of new jobs, and provide much needed neighborhood amenities. Riverside Center is also the last remaining undeveloped or unplanned piece of the Riverside South development, which failed to achieve broad consensus and resulted in detrimental impacts on the community.
While emphasizing that the “development of the [Riverside Center] site is desirable to the Upper West Side community,” the borough president’s recommendations identifies several areas that necessitate improvement and modification. The current proposal lacks good site planning, creates inactive streetscapes, and obscures access to the proposed open space. Additionally, the proposed project has many environmental impacts that require real mitigations. The borough president’s recommendation advocates for the inclusion of public amenities such as a public school of an appropriate size to meet the needs of the community and additional active recreational space.
Granted Stringer’s recommendations are wholly advisory, but they do point to the rough road ahead, not least because City Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden aired her own reservations about the project when it was certified back in May. Local City Councilwoman Gail Brewer has also expressed skepticism and is not especially pro-development by the council’s standards.
Still, Barnett has repeatedly shown his willingness to compromise on the project. To see it built, he will almost certainly have to continue doing so.