Testimony heard on Solow East Side project

Council Member Daniel Garodnick concerned over Solow project’s height and density. On February 25, 2008, two City Council subcommittees held a joint public hearing regarding Solow Properties’ plan to construct a mixed-use development at the former Con Edison site, located along First Avenue between East 38th and 41st Streets. The subcommittees also heard testimony regarding Manhattan Community Board 6’s 197-a plan, which covers the same area.

The Planning Commission significantly modified both plans on January 28, 2008. Solow’s modified plan called for seven towers—six residential towers and one commercial office tower—for a total of 3,760,000 sq.ft. of residential floor area and 1,374,000 sq.ft. of commercial floor area. The residential towers would have heights between 600 and 700 feet and feature ground-floor retail as well as a publicly accessible viewing platform overlooking the waterfront. A public school was also part of the Commission-approved plan.

Board 6’s 197-a development plan called for height, density and parking restrictions as well as more open space, especially along the waterfront. The Commission, however, heavily modified the plan, deleting sections that discouraged high-density development east of Second Avenue, for example, to encourage ingenuity and creative development in the area. 5 CityLand 6 (Feb. 15, 2008); 4 CityLand 172 (Dec. 2007).

At the Council’s public hearing, Solow’s urban planner, Marilyn J. Taylor, emphasized that the sheer-rising towers would minimize the development’s footprint to 32.4 percent of the site, leaving the remaining portions open for public space with several public amenities, including a 10,000-square-foot playground, a large public lawn, and a water feature for children to use in the summer. Jim Schmidt, Director of Development for Solow, highlighted the 1,800 fulltime construction jobs that would be created during construction, in addition to 5,400 permanent jobs. He also stated that the project would participate in the City’s Inclusionary Housing Program, creating 668 units of affordable housing. Further, Schmidt noted that the amended plans reduced the density of the office building from 12 to 10 FAR, and cut the number of parking spaces by 250, to a new total of 1,250.

Chair of the Planning subcommittee, Council Member Daniel Garodnick, whose district includes Murray Hill, stated that the developer needed to “continue this conversation” on the proposed building heights. He also wanted more information on how Solow proposed to address concerns over increased traffic because the large-scale development is located within an already heavily congested area, especially when the nearby United Nations is in session. Council Member Jessica Lappin, whose district is just north of the site, expressed her opposition to the amended plans, calling the proposed towers “too tall, too dense and too commercial.” Lappin also expressed her dissatisfaction over Solow’s plan to provide half of the affordable housing off-site, urging the developer to make all of the affordable housing on-site.

Ellen Imbimbo testified before the subcommittees regarding Board 6’s 197-a plan. Imbimbo urged the Council to undo the Commission’s modifications to Board 6’s plan in order to preserve neighborhood character and add more desperately needed open space. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer testified as well, voicing his strong support for Board 6’s plan and calling for significant changes to Solow’s plans similar to those discussed by Garodnick and others.

Over 30 members of the public testified at the hearing on February 25th, along with representatives of several elected officials. In general, residents favored further reduction of the height of the proposed buildings.
The subcommittees deferred a vote until their next joint meeting in early March.

Council: East River Realty Company and First Avenue Properties Development (Feb. 25, 2008); Manhattan Community Board 6 197-a Plan (Feb. 25, 2008).


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