As another year draws to a close, things are looking UP on the Upper West Side…
of course, we are talking about construction!
Continued unprecedented development looms across nearly all reaches of the district from 59th Street to 110th Street – especially along the peripheries of our historic districts and adjacent to our individual landmarks. In the absence of actual planning or consideration for a pedestrian friendly street-scape, height is the primary design factor for new construction projects. The district’s height superlative was set in 2003 by the twin 55-story, 750-foot high Time Warner Center towers. The next tallest building is The Park Millennium at 111 West 67th Street. At 38 stories, it rises 545 feet above street level and was the subject of lengthy Department of City Planning meetings during the 1993 district re-zoning. It was eventually allowed, but deemed “not in keeping” with City Planning’s vision for the area, so stronger protections were sought and standards set in place with the goal of halting out-of-context buildings. What a miscalculation that turned out to be!
Today’s threats are even greater. 36 West 66th Street (the tower replacing the Jewish Guild for the Blind and Congregation Habonim’s synagogue) has re-filed an open permit for a 39-story, 775 foot tall residential tower…yes, 25 feet taller, yet 16 stories shorter than the Time Warner Center. The developer intends to achieve this by manipulating the building code to create one “mechanical” floor that is 161 feet tall and then stacking residential floors atop it. To put this scale into perspective, imagine the infamous Museum of Arts and Design – 2 Columbus Circle. Now take that building and place it inside the mechanical void floor of 36 West 66th Street. The museum, like a simple tchotchke, could literally fit in that space with room to spare! Just consider FDNY’s bravest climbing this behemoth in an emergency with 45 pounds of gear!
LANDMARK WEST! along with the neighbors at 10 West 66th Street filed a zoning challenge asking the Department of Buildings to not only look at the specifics of this development, but also at the department’s own standard review procedures to ensure proper consideration of occupant safety and emergency fire egress is addressed. We are working with city agencies and elected officials at the city and state level to review and demand regulation of building code standards. We have teamed with peer preservation advocacy organizations on all sides of Central Park, local community boards, block associations, neighbor groups, building boards and individuals like YOU to curb the proliferation of these new Supertalls and, most importantly, to return to commonsense planning for our neighborhoods.
We have made great strides, but need to tackle this issue broadly, not just on a case-by-case level. Bigger threats loom, like the $1.155 billion sale of the ABC campuses in July and will mean sizable changes starting in Summer 2020.
As we encourage our 1,100 elementary school-age Neighborhood Explorers and Local History, Brownstone, and Design Detectives through our Keeping the Past for the Future program: look! Enjoy the beauty of our neighborhood. For our grown-up explorers and detectives: be our eyes on the street! Alert us to inappropriate development, unpermitted work, and hazardous conditions. We want to ensure that the UWS remains beautiful, but also properly maintained and, most of all, safe for our neighbors to enjoy.
It is not all dour. The Best of the West is still here-visible on nearly every block-and reminds us every day what we are fighting for. LANDMARK WEST! hosted three dozen programs and events this year, ranging from author talks to private tours, interviews and screenings. These bring you directly to the source of those exploring and making Upper West Side and New York City history. Come see for yourself, and support our underlying mission.
Follow our LANDMARK WEST! Watch Blog and join in! Become a member at the highest level you are able. And be sure to sign up for our email alerts. Participation is critical! All Partner level (and above) members get 2-for-1 tickets to most of our programs, with an ever- growing roster of events.
We need your help and contributions to maintain vigilance and be a strong, resonant voice for all residents within our district. There is so much to do in the year ahead and we cannot do it without your financial support and participation-we’d love to have you join us.
From the Upper West Side,
Page Cowley Sean Khorsandi
Board Chair Executive Director