Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer released his recommendations for the Riverside Center megaproject yesterday afternoon. Like Community Board 7, he doesn’t approve of Extell Development’s request to build more than 1,800 underground parking spaces and an automobile showroom and repair shop. He does believe, however, that 1,100 parking spots would be appropriate.
The Borough President’s recommendations, which you can read in full in this West Side Spirit report, are advisory; the project now moves to the City Planning Commission and then the City Council, which will have the final say.
Compared to the developer’s proposal, Stringer’s request would help make the project more walkable in a few other ways. For instance, following the community board’s example, Stringer has asked for the project to be built at street level, rather than on an elevated platform, so that it is integrated with the neighborhood’s sidewalks and street life.
But the parking levels will have the greatest effect on traffic and how people choose to get to and from Riverside Center. At the community board meeting on this project held in July, no one spoke in favor of the developer’s eye-popping proposal of 1,800 parking spaces, but debate raged over whether the board would request 700, 1,000, or 1,200 spaces. The board ultimately recommended 1,000.
Stringer is calling for the slightly larger number of 1,100 spaces, which equals the capacity of the first of two floors of parking that Extell is seeking to build. According to the recommendations put out by Stringer’s office, the 1,100 parking spot figure came from adjusting the calculations in the developer’s environmental impact statement to match the car ownership rate found in a study of the nearby Hudson Yards area.
By many counts, the number of parking spaces at Riverside Center ought to be far smaller.
Under a 1991 agreement limiting the total number of spaces allowed at the larger Riverside South development area, only 743 spaces would be allowed at the Riverside Center site. If Riverside Center had the same ratio of parking to residences as neighboring buildings, it would only contain around 550 spaces, according to CB 7 member Hope Cohen. By these metrics, 1,100 or even 1,000 spots are still a huge concession to the automobile.
Stringer’s office defended the higher total, arguing that in 1991, 577 residential units and a TV studio were planned for the site, whereas the current proposal could have up to 3,000 units of housing (but no TV studio). "Failure to accommodate the demand for parking of the development would likely cause a significant environmental impact as defined by CEQR," added a spokeswoman, referring to New York City’s environmental review law.
The borough president’s position is one more reminder of the irony that the city’s environmental law often ends up establishing de facto parking minimums across the city, even in Manhattan south of 60th Street. And it brings home the arbitrariness of the whole exercise. Had Stringer’s office simply made different assumptions about car-ownership rates, he might have recommended 550 spaces instead of 1,100.