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217 West 57th Street, Application for a Certificate of Appropriateness to construct a new building which would cantilever over the western portion of the Landmark site of American Fine Arts Society building at 215 West 57th Street…

At the scheduled monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, October 10, 2013, the Board passed the following resolution by a vote of 26 in favor; 3 opposed; 6 abstaining; 1 present not entitled to vote:

WHEREAS, Extell Development Corporation is proposing to construct a new through block building to be located at 217 West 57th Street, between Broadway and Seventh Avenue; and

WHEREAS, The site of the proposed new building would be adjacent to the American Fine Arts Society building at 215 West 57th Street, a four story French Renaissance style, through block townhouse style building, designed by the prominent architect, Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, constructed in 1891-92 on the block bounded by West 57th street, West 58th Street, Broadway and Seventh Avenue; and

WHEREAS, The design of the rich and stately façade, a combination of white marble, ornate terra cotta and buff brick, is inspired by the 16th Century hunting lodge of King Francis I in the Fontainebleau forest; and

WHEREAS, On December 10, 1968, the Landmarks Preservation Commission designated the Arts building at 215 West 57th Street as an individual Landmark, and subsequently it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980; and

WHEREAS, Pending their membership's approval, the Art Students League, which has been the sole proprietor of the Arts building at 215 West 57th Street since 1941, is considering a transaction which would transfer the unused air rights toward the development of the proposed new Extell building at 217 West 57th Street and permit the cantilever; and

WHEREAS, The proposed new building would have façades of low reflective glass, and would have a 150 feet wide street wall at West 57th Street and a 195 feet wide street wall at West 58th Street; and

WHEREAS, Although the height of the building is subject to change the drawings Extell shared with the Community Board indicated that the new building would be approximately 1,424 feet, containing retail, hotel and residential uses, making it the tallest building in NYC, except for 1 World Trade Center which includes a 400 foot spire; and

WHEREAS, Keeping in line with the height of the adjacent Arts Landmark, the base of the proposed new building would rise to 97 feet high, and this would contain five levels of retail space to be occupied by a Nordstrom Department Store, with its main entrance on West 57th Street and with entrances on West 58th Street and Broadway; and

WHEREAS, The new building would also have separate street level entrances to lobbies for the hotel on West 58th Street and residences on West 57th Street that would occupy the tower above the Nordstrom store; and

WHEREAS, The Nordstrom Department Store, expected to open in 2018, will contain over 200,000 sq. ft. of selling space spanning five floors in the new building on West 57th Street and interconnecting to 1780 Broadway and 1790 Broadway, two other individual Landmark properties, with additional entrances to the store on Broadway.  Proposed changes to these buildings are in related CB5 resolutions; and

WHEREAS, Accommodation of the multi-purposes on the upper floors, throughout the proposed new building, would be achieved through a multi-cantilevered design, which would include a soffit underneath the residences which would measure approximately 88'-10" deep (from north to south) and would protrude 28 feet toward the east over the 75 feet wide Arts building; and

WHEREAS, The underside of residential cantilever's soffit would be constructed 291 feet above grade at West 57th Street, 194'-7" above the high roof point of the landmark's West 57th Street façade, 288'-9" above grade at West 58th Street, and 243'-1" above the high roof point of the landmark's West 58th Street façade; and

WHEREAS, In accordance with Zoning requirements pertaining to pedestrian circulation, the proposed new building would be constructed to include a 16 feet wide through block pedestrian arcade immediately adjacent to the Arts building; and

WHEREAS, Additionally, in connection with the proposed building, there may be additional amenity requirements imposed by various NYC agencies or zoning regulations in connection with the Special Midtown District.  The Community Board and its relevant committees should be consulted in the case that any such amenities, including those that relate to transportation, public seating, or streetscape additions, have the potential to be inappropriate additions and may impose on the visual aesthetic of the Arts Students League and the other Landmark Designated buildings in the immediate area, including Carnegie Hall, The Osborne, and the Alwyn Court.  The applicant should agree to work with the Community Board and affected landmark building(s) to find alternatives that do not affect buildings that have certain protections under Landmark regulations, even if the proposed amenity is not subject to LPC review or ULUURP process; and

WHEREAS, the Community Board has not been given any meaningful information about whether such amenities are being planned or contemplated, or if such amenities are required to be made as part of the construction of this new building, Extell is strongly urged to share that information with the Community Board to ensure that any such amenities or improvements are appropriately sited from a pedestrian movement, transit legibility, and landmarks perspective; and

WHEREAS, there is concern of how a 1,424 feet tall building (and potentially taller) sited between West 57th Street and West 58th Street might impact Central Park, a Scenic Landmark; and

WHEREAS, Given the size of this building and its potential impact to the context of so many surrounding landmarks – several on the applicant zoning lot and others including Carnegie Hall and multiple landmark structures just a short distance away - the applicant should have shared with CB5 a shadow study which is increasingly easy to perform with 3D architectural modeling software; and

WHEREAS, Given the size of this building there was very little information provided about how this building would define itself on the skyline either through the use of materials, mechanical equipment on the roof of the building, antennae or lighting; and

WHEREAS, Given the presence of this building on the skyline and from across NYC and the region the building's treatment of the skyline is an incredibly relevant part of this discussion and should be considered more carefully and more fully as a part of this discussion by LPC and other stakeholders; and

WHEREAS, Despite requests to explain what an as-of-right building would look like absent the cantilever the applicant informed the Community Board that the information was unavailable and the Board finds it hard to believe that the applicant has not done careful massing studies of a building which would not require LPC approval; and

WHEREAS, Although the stated rationale for the cantilever over the landmark was the creation of a clean Nordstrom's floorplate, there have been a variety of questions raised about cantilever functioning to ensure views to Central Park in light of another project being developed on the block to the north by Vornado at approximately 900 feet tall; and

WHEREAS, Over the course of the two years there have been a variety of construction accidents as a part of the applicant's other building at 157 West 57th Street, including multiple evacuations of the block; and

WHEREAS, No information was provided to the Board to help us understand how these accidents could be avoided and how construction would occur with minimal disruption to the surrounding neighborhood for a building which is approximately 50% taller and will likely be even harder to build; and

WHEREAS, The construction of these new very tall buildings raises new construction challenges which need to be addressed in a transparent and coordinated fashion across several agencies, especially the Department of Transportation and the Department of Buildings; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five is deeply troubled to learn that the applicant received tax abatements for the construction of 157 West 57th Street for luxury housing and these tax breaks are being investigated by a Commission formed by Governor Cuomo on corruption; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five does not believe that tax breaks are appropriate for high end residential housing and calls on the applicant to not pursue these tax breaks for 217 West 57th Street; and

WHEREAS, a number of members of the public who came to testify spoke about concerns relating to loading and unloading of trucks on West 58th Street which is a narrow street; and

WHEREAS, Nordstrom's – unlike many surrounding uses – will bring with it a new set of impacts which need to be addressed before the building is open including loading and unloading, taxi drop offs and pickups, and new pedestrian challenges; and 

WHEREAS, Having thoroughly reviewed the Applicant's presentation and evaluated concerns of neighbors and local residents, CB5 finds that the proposed new building's eastern cantilever and the roof of the adjacent landmark would have a negative visual impact on the setting for the landmark, and potentially raises very significant concerns about the impact of construction on the landmark buildings in the surrounding area and the neighborhood overall.  Furthermore, neither the stated rationale for the cantilever – a clean retail floorplate – or the need to ensure views to the north and Central Park to avoid a new building being built on Central Park South directly across West 58th Street is an appropriate rationale for this incursion over the landmark; and

WHEREAS, many members of the surrounding community appeared at the CB5's full board meeting to raise concerns about this proposed building, many of these concerns are captured in this resolution.  We hope that these issues and others start a more meaningful and substantive dialogue with Extell and our elected officials in an effort to forge a better relationship between Extell and the community in which it seeks to build; and

WHEREAS, CB5 finds that the proposed design of the new building will have a material adverse effect on the landmark at 215 West 57th Street; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends denial of the Application for a Certificate of Appropriateness to construct a new building at 217 West 57th Street which would cantilever over the western portion of the American Fine Arts Society building at 215 West 57th Street for all of the reasons noted above; and, be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five is eager to continue to work with the applicant, elected officials, relevant city agencies (DOT, DCP, DOB, LPC, MTA, and others) and the surrounding community to ensure that the building that is eventually built responds to the concerns outlined in this resolution and that a broader conversation about the design review for skyline buildings and the appropriate urban design controls for this neighborhood begin in earnest.

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