News
03.19.2008
A Line in the Water
Council leaders may use waterfront access in bargaining over Solow plan

solow plan
COURTESY MUNICIPAL ART SOCIETY

On February 25, a City Council hearing began the last phase of public review on Sheldon Solow’s eight-building megaplan for the East 30s, and considered the urban conditions within the six-block river view site. However, changes to the waterfront across the FDR Drive from Solow’s project may drive more horse-trading over the project’s specifics.

The hearing, which featured testimony from representatives of the Municipal Art Society and New York Building Congress, raised all the issues on which Solow and the city have already come to terms. These included expanding a public playground from 5,500 to 10,000 square feet, reducing building heights, and shrinking the proposed office building’s overall footprint. Solow has also committed to a 630-seat school, which the city would build by 2012. The 8.7-acre plan by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Field Operations, and Richard Meier & Partners looks set to go forward, said Jasper Goldman, who testified for the Municipal Art Society, but unresolved problems remain. As Goldman explained, civic activists worry most about public use of 39th and 40th streets, which Solow’s plan removes from the street grid, and how the project may affect a waterfront park along the East River from 38th Street to the United Nations. “Everybody agrees the open space is well designed and likes the east-west orientation of the buildings, but people were nervous about the idea of it shutting down at 1 a.m. This is such a massive development that the public space should be a real public park.”

In addition, Solow would need to provide easements from his property to city and state agencies to enable a deck over the FDR Drive to the new waterfront park. Solow has endorsed the idea, but stopped short of pledging his money toward the project, which the Campaign for an East Side Waterfront Park projects could cost around $116 million.

Local City Council member Dan Garodnick, who founded the park campaign, has stressed his district’s paucity of open space. He may relent on some issues, like the impact on the skyline of four nearly identical towers, in order to secure funding for deck construction or concessions on opening 39th and 40th streets. At a February 21 announcement laying out the waterfront coalition’s agenda, Garodnick told reporters that he and the developer were “in the midst of discussions about height, density, and open space.” 

These issues should be resolved in negotiations before late March, when the Council will vote on Solow’s plan. Goldman forecasted that an easement will emerge as part of a deal. “What’s less clear is the idea that 39th and 40th streets will be public, and that’s what Council negotiations are for,” he said. “We said the developer should consider a Riverside South model, where open space is mapped as parkland but maintenance is contracted to a private entity.”

To Goldman, a new waterfront park would cap Solow’s development by tethering it to its most famous neighbor. “A waterfront park would create a place to enjoy looking at the UN Secretariat,” he said. But Solow’s flexibility about keeping his development fully accessible may determine how soon that park comes into being. 

ALEC APPELBAUM

Alec Appelbaum