Manhattan CB 7 Demands 800 Fewer Parking Spaces at Riverside Center

RiversideSubcellar_Parking.pngRiverside Center won’t build a second parking deck if CB 7’s recommendations are adopted. Image: Extell Development

Manhattan Community Board 7 approved its recommendations for the Riverside Center mega-project in a special meeting last night, laying out a long list of demands. Many of the modifications would make the development more walkable, whether by integrating the project with the city’s streets and sidewalks or, more controversially, reducing the amount of parking proposed for the site. The board wants Extell Development to chop the number of parking spaces in its proposal from 1,800 to 1,000.

The current design calls for 2,500 apartments, split among five towers facing inward around a central public space, between 59th and 61st Streets next to the West Side Highway.

Many of the board’s recommendations seek to re-orient the project around the Upper West Side’s street life. They ask for retail along West End Avenue, "where it will be successful and used by the community," according to board chair Mel Wymore. Similarly, rather than allow the project to be built on an elevated platform as the site slopes toward the Hudson, the board demanded that the project be built at street level. Otherwise, said board member Hope Cohen, the project would resemble the crime-ridden Bryant Park of the early 1980s, which was physically and visually cut off from the sidewalk.

Those and other pedestrian-friendly design improvements, like sidewalk widening, won unanimous support without comment. But when it came to parking, Community Board 7 was split in half. 

Under a 1991 agreement, the developer, Extell, is only allowed to build 743 parking spaces at Riverside Center, according to Wymore, but they are requesting 1,800 spaces. 

Extell spokesman George Arzt explained that the developers originally wanted to build 2,300 spaces, a one-to-one replacement for the number of spaces currently at the site, which is now a double-level parking lot. Extell reduced their request to 1,800 when they dropped plans to include a Costco. Arzt didn’t worry that adding so much parking would increase congestion in the neighborhood, arguing that "this complex is right off the highway, so most of the cars that are going to go there are not going to be using city streets."

Community Board 7, however, is demanding that Extell drop the amount of parking down to 1,000 spaces. Wymore said that consultants hired by the board believed that between 800 and 1,000 spaces would be best for the site and that 1,000 was a compromise position between various community voices. 

Some on the board, including both transportation committee co-chairs, Dan Zweig and Andrew Albert, wanted a higher total of 1,200 parking spots. "In New York, in a place where there is no more expensive or more difficult place to own a car," said Zweig, "citizens continue to go to the trouble." Therefore, he argued, those who drive need to be catered to, since their behavior isn’t going to change. Car trips, he said, "are necessary for the lifestyle of the West Side." 

Zweig also framed the need for more parking as an issue of economic justice. "The people most affected will be those unable to afford it, who will be priced out of their own garages as this trickles up the whole West Side," he argued. Of course, only 26 percent of Upper West Side households own a car at all, and those car owners, on average, earn more than double the rest of the neighborhood, who would have to put up with the added traffic, pollution, and danger [PDF].

Other board members pushed back. Ken Coughlin quoted the developer’s own draft environmental impact statement, which showed that if Zweig had his way and 1,200 parking spaces were built, it would mean 3,100 car trips a day in and out of the garage.

Cohen reminded the board that at the other new buildings adjacent to Riverside Center, the ratio of parking is far lower. Using the same ratio as its neighbors, she said, would supply Riverside Center with 550 spaces. 

Ultimately, the board held firm at the 1,000-car number. Motions to increase and decrease the amount of parking in the board’s recommendation to 1,200 and 700 failed 10-24 and 9-23, respectively. The board also unanimously voted against a proposed 181,000 square foot below-grade auto service center.

Though 1,000 parking spaces would still be more than there ought to be — the post-PlaNYC city of 2010 should be less accommodating to the automobile than a 1991 agreement, not more —  it’s much fewer than the developer wants to build or than currently exist on-site. The question is whether CB 7’s recommendation, which is only advisory, will be heeded by the City Planning Commission and City Council.

After last night’s vote, Council Member Gale Brewer expressed support for the 1,000 space limit. "Definitely only one floor of parking," she stated, imposing a physical constraint that would prevent the construction of any more than 1,100 spaces.

Voicing support for 1,000 spaces won’t necessarily be enough to win that reduction, however. With CB 7 making so many demands, including a significant increase in housing affordability and the construction of an elementary school, Brewer and other decision-makers will need not only to support reducing the amount of parking at Riverside Center, but to fight for it in the likelihood that not every community demand will be met.

The project now goes to Borough President Scott Stringer for his recommendations. 

  • mike

    How about 0 parking spaces? That’d be more in line with the urban form.

  • Car trips, he said, “are necessary for the lifestyle of the West Side.”

    Bullshit. My dad lived on the Upper West Side for thirty years without a driver’s license, let alone a car. Why is this guy co-chair of the transportation committee?

  • Lisa

    I agree with Angus…why don’t we try to assimilate these UWSers and teach them about the subway, bus, and the Hudson River bike path, mere steps from their new front doors. That’s how the vast majority of us get around up here!

  • BicyclesOnly

    Huge thanks to Ken Coughlin, Mel Wymore, and the other members of CB7 who volunteer so much of their free time to counter the asinine nonsense of Andrew Albert and his ilk. It will be very difficult to win all of the proposed improvements recommended by the CB, but any progress at the end of the day is thanks to them.

    Angus and Lisa are right, but I fear the kind of development going on here is not going to mesh very well with the UWS of old. We’ll see.

  • Another vote for Angus’s comment. I came to the Upper West Side on my 18th birthday to go to school. I’ve now been here for 35 years, all of my adult life. While I do have a driver’s license, I’ve never driven a car here. Not even the occasional car rental, not even once. No need. It’s one of the reasons I stayed here after graduation. I love the streetscape and my car-free life.

  • Andrew

    Instead of parking, how about a shuttle bus to the subway, which is a pretty long walk from here?

  • JK

    More evidence that NYC is going backwards on off-street parking policy. This is a 35% increase in parking for this site from the 1991 agreement. And, it’s based on what? The onus is on Gail Brewer and Scott Stringer to start being leaders and start supporting sustainable parking policy. It’s not enough to say “The developer asked for 2,300 and we only gave them 1,000.” Apparently, the developer should have asked for 5,000 and settled for half that. Gail Brewer and Scott Stringer have to ask themselves what their vision for NYC is. Reacting to a developer’s proposal will not result in a livable city.

  • Just to add to Andrew’s wise suggestion. Instead of accommodating all these car owners, why not build on the needed transit in the area? Some ideas that surely have been tossed around, or should be:
    1. Select Bus Service on 59th Street to expedite the trip across town and to the subway.
    2. Ferry terminal at 72nd Street to speed people to the Battery and relieve congestion at 72nd Street subway.
    3. MetroNorth station somewhere between 59th and 72nd Street, and routing of MetroNorth trains down the West Side to Penn Station. (Isn’t this supposed to happen once the East Side Access tunnel for LIRR is completed?)
    4. Real bike lanes on West End Ave.

    Also, Arzt’s comment about cars going right onto the West Side Highway is ridiculous. Do we want to add more cars going downtown on the west side?

  • it’s still 1000 freaking cars. f that.

  • Westchesterite:

    1. 59th Street is a marginal corridor for SBS. The Uptown corridors that need SBS are 86th and 125th (actually 125th needs a subway, but that’s another discussion). The rest don’t have the ridership.

    2. The 2/3 is pretty fast, much faster than a ferry would be. And while the line is congested, it’s not the 4/5 or the E/F.

    3. There actually is a plan to put a station at 62nd. There’s reserved space for it around the tracks. Metro-North to Penn Station will happen when it happens. The limiting factor isn’t ESA; it’s MTA competence levels.

    4. Riverside is already a great place to bike on the sidewalk. Maybe on-street bike lanes are called for, but Riverside is probably a better place for them than West End, since bikes could run stoplight-free for multiple tens of blocks.

  • Alon Levy: “Riverside is already a good place to bike on the sidewalk.”

    There is no good place to bike on the sidewalk. It is illegal and for good reason.

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