Architect Compares Extell Plan to Public Housing

by - August 2, 2009 at 5:29 pm -

extell-coffeeCraig Whitaker, an architect and urban planner working for the Coalition for a Livable West Side, interspersed pictures of housing projects with drawings of the Extell Development Company’s proposal for Riverside Center at a meeting this week. His message was simple: See all of the happy people drinking coffee and lounging on the grass at Extell’s proposed Riverside Center development? Those people might exist in a fantasy world, but they’re not going to show up at Riverside Center if it looks anything like the current plan.

The Extell plan, which extends from West End Avenue to the West Side Drive between 59th and 61st on a site that is being used now as a parking lot, has already been criticized by Coalition for a Livable West Side, the Riverside South Planning Corporation, and Community Board 7 for density and other concerns. It would add five buildings with thousands of new residences, as well as a new public school and underground auto dealership. Community members have been debating what to do with this plot (a former railroad yard) since at least 1992, when the plan was to turn it into a 1.8 million square foot television studio with a smaller area for residences.

Taking a page out of the Jane Jacobs playbook, Whitaker said at a meeting Thursday night that the open space in the Extell’s 3.1 million square foot development proposal won’t entice anyone because it appears more private than public. Just like in some housing projects, the building’s back doors will likely open out onto the park area, making the space uninviting, Whitaker said. He presented his own plan, which would include a park between a series of buildings and add some more streets (imagine a public version of Gramercy Park). A group of Extell reps sitting in back didn’t respond — they said they were at the meeting to listen — but the company has promoted the open space on its website as an important community gathering space. Among other amenities, it will have a “water scrim,” which looks like a shallow pool. On the project website, the company says that 39% of the development will be open space, the same percentage as Battery Park City.

Extell, run by former diamond merchant Gary Barnett, is among the city’s most prolific and powerful developers, though the company has experienced some controversy with one recent Upper West Side development. In 2005, the company purchased the land between 59th street and 65th on the water and has begun building on it, already completing the Avery on 65th Street and the Rushmore on 64th.

extell-riverside

The Riverside Center proposal still needs to be certified by the city’s planning department, but then the Community Board will get another crack at it.

(images via Extell’s Riverside Center website)

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  1. Extell Unveils New (Improved?) Riverside Center : Westside Independent says...

    […] numerous concerns with the proposal, and groups have proposed alternative plans for the site. One architect hired by the coalition even compared sections of the old plan to a housing project. Neighbors have also voiced concerns […]