Upper West Side Development Clears Hurdle

A proposed 3.1 million-square-foot development on the Upper West Side cleared an important hurdle for City Council approval on Wednesday by passing through two of the Council’s key committees.

Both the Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee and the Land Use Committee approved developer Extell Development Corporation’s plans for a large high-rise residential and mixed-use development known as the Riverside Center.

If approved, Extell will build the Riverside Center on the Upper West Side’s last undeveloped parcel of land, which sits between West End Avenue and Riverside Boulevard, from West 59th Street and West 61st Street. The development will include high-rise residential buildings, a school, retail space and open green space. It would house up to 3,000 units and increase the neighborhood population by three percent.

The committees’ approval comes after months of negotiations between Extell and the local community board, Councilmember Gale Brewer of the Upper West Side and the City Planning Department.

To meet community concerns about school overcrowding, Extell agreed to build out the core and shell of a 100,000-square-foot school, a compromise from the community board’s request for a 150,000-square-foot school. The School Construction Authority will outfit the rest of the school.

In addition, the Riverside Center will also be part of the city’s inclusionary housing program, which requires that 20 percent, or 500,000 square feet, of the development is affordable housing. Within the development, 135,000 square feet will be affordable housing, while the rest of the required affordable housing will be offsite.   

Additional modifications include increased retail space along West End Avenue, expanded street-level open green space and $20 million in funding toward nearby Riverside Park South.

Brewer said the negotiations resulted in some neighborhood necessities, although the development is still too large.

“It's very hard,” Brewer said, “to scale down these developments to a more manageable size and at the same time get the desperately needed housing, the desperately needed school and a desperately needed open space. So it's a compromise.”

However, not all residents are thrilled with the agreement. Batya Lewton of the Coalition for a Livable West Side said that Extell is not giving enough back to the community for the real estate profits they will make. The developer should be building a larger school and covering all the costs, not just the core and shell, she said, adding there should be a true park and more affordable housing on-site.

“[Residents] are not getting a park; they’re not getting a school. They’re getting increased traffic and increased residents,” she added. “What is this giving back to the community?”

The City Council will vote on the proposed development later this month.