Solow’s plan covers one of the largest development sites in Manhattan. On December 5, 2007, the Planning Commission heard testimony regarding Solow Properties’ plans to construct a mixed-use development ground in the southeastern portion. Solow left the parking component of its plans intact.
Chair Amanda Burden and Commissioner Irwin G. Cantor both focused on the height of the proposed towers, some of which are significantly taller than the nearby United Nations headquarters. Solow’s attorney, Gary Tarnoff, argued that the towers’ height minimizes their footprint, which in turn maximizes the amount of publicly accessible open space. To abandon the tower-based design, he claimed, would compromise the development’s open space, which accounts for roughly half the site.
Commissioners Richard W. Eaddy and Nathan Leventhal expressed their concern over traffic congestion, and pressed Solow about the parking components of the plan. Solow responded that the parking it calls for is not excessive given the floor area of its proposed development. Solow went on to state that reducing the development’s number of parking spaces would burden the surrounding streets, as cars would circle the neighborhood looking for places to park.
The Board presented its 197-a development plan to the Commission as well. Its plan seeks to establish contextual zoning that would impose building height limits, discourage commercial uses east of Third Avenue, ameliorate traffic congestion by limiting parking garage development, and expand open space—especially along the waterfront. The Board’s plan also calls for opening up those portions of 39th and 40th Streets that were demapped at Con Edison’s request.
Commissoner Cantor wondered whether the Board’s preference for residential, not commercial, development east of Third Avenue, along with the call to remap certain streets, are at odds with its concerns over traffic congestion. The Board argued that office towers would “depopulate” the area and compromise its residential character, while contributing to traffic congestion during peak commuter hours. The Board went on to state its belief that remapping the streets would bring “vibrancy” and add to the public nature of the area, the benefits of which would outweigh any increase in vehicular traffic.
The Real Estate Board of New York testified in support of Solow’s proposal and argued that the proposed office tower would “allow the city to capture its fair share of regional job growth,” while the development’s height and density would fund public amenities that the local community sorely needs, such as more classrooms and open space.
Council Members Daniel R. Garodnick, Jessica Lappin, and Rosie Mendez, in addition to State Senator Liz Krueger, State Senator Thomas Duane, and State Assembly-member Brian Kavanagh, all testified in support of the Board’s 197-a plan while urging the Commission to further modify Solow’s proposal. Garodnick, whose district includes the areas covered by both plans, argued that the local infrastructure is already heavily burdened and cannot accommodate a development the size of Solow’s proposal.
The Commission expects to vote on both plans by January 28, 2008.
CPC: East River Realty Co., Cal. No. 23 (C 070529 ZMM – map amend.); (N 070530(A) ZRY – text amend.); (C 070531(A) ZSM – N 070534 ZSM – special permits); (N 070535 ZCM – N 070538 ZCM – certification) (Dec. 5, 2007) (Kramer Levin, for Solow); Manhattan Community Board 6 197-a Plan, Cal. No. 23 (N 060273 NPM) (Dec. 5, 2007).