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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

Application N 140308 ZCM - 217 West 57th Street, application for a certificate to allow for a waiver of subway improvement requirement

This letter and the accompanying resolution are in response to the Extell application for a waiver of the subway stair location zoning requirements.  On April 30, 2014, Extell and its representatives presented to Community Board Five's Land Use and Zoning committee their application for a joint certification. 



Community Board Five has sought to engage in a productive and collaborative conversation with the development community and Extell, in particular, around a new generation of towers which are rising to the south of Central Park.  In February, we hosted a town hall attended by over 400 people where all of our elected officials joined the Board in raising a broad range of concerns.  Since then, CB5 has been exploring a series of policy goals: strengthening public review, improving transparency, protecting critical public open spaces, and ensuring development supports the qualities which make New York City a place in which people want to live, work, visit and invest.


During these conversations many profound concerns have been voiced by elected officials, members of the press, and the broader public about the scale of these towers and their potential impact to Central Park in addition to their impacts on infrastructure, landmark or landmark worthy buildings, and, more broadly, the character of the city.  There continue to be concerns about the manner in which these buildings are constructed and the need to find approaches to minimize the disruption they create for surrounding residents, commercial neighbors, and visitors.


Community Board Five, in response to this wave of development, has organized a taskforce to develop recommendations about changes to City policy to ensure that as new buildings are built they contribute to the character of our neighborhoods. 


If we do development poorly, particularly on some of the most visible projects in NYC, then it will only make it harder to convince the public to support the right kind of development – projects which include significant amounts of affordable housing or substantive transit improvements or great architecture.


Frequently the Board's position has been mischaracterized as opposing development.   A brief examination of our official statements on a range of new development projects should quickly disabuse anyone of that idea.  Within the past year we have recommended the approval of significant new towers on Central Park South, in Times Square, and in the heart of the Theater district.  There are countless examples over the last five years of our support of significant new developments in our district and we expect the coming years to bring more projects as the market for new development in Community Board Five continues to be strong.


However, there have also been instances when the Board has raised concerns about the nature of a new project.   The goal has never been to stop development but to ensure that developers or the City engage with the community to address issues early in the process and find ways to fairly balance private gain with public good.


It's our hope that through conversations with an engaged community, the agencies which regulate development, the development industry, and our elected officials, we will find genuinely collaborative solutions and, as a city, we can grow more thoughtfully.


217 West 57th Street

Unfortunately, Community Board Five has been unable to convince Extell that a collaborative discussion is in the best interests of the developer and the city, despite repeated efforts to start that conversation (see attached resolution from October, 2013, in particular). 


The zoning lot, which is the subject of this waiver, has come before Community Board Five in a variety of other contexts - for the original landmark designation of buildings on the site, for modifications to buildings which had been landmarked, for a proposal to build a cantilever over the Arts Student League (a designated landmark) – and we're likely to continue to see applications for changes to parking regulations, for liquor licenses, physical culture establishments and potentially other regulatory issues.   We have made clear to the developer of this building that it's time for a constructive and transparent conversation about their project which will be one of the tallest buildings built in New York City.


In addition to the lack of a collaborative dialogue there have been serious and deeply troubling reports about tax breaks given to Extell, which has benefitted from[1] state legislation creating a onetime windfall of approximately $35 million dollars, according to reporting by the Daily News, The NY Times and others[2].   These tax breaks are connected to an adjacent Extell development at 157 West 57th Street, which is now almost complete.


Recent History

An application was filed by Extell to allow for a similar waiver of subway improvement requirements as a part of the construction of 157 West 57th Street.   In order to comply with the requirements of that application, in 2007 Extell agreed to construct, and NYC Transit and the Chair of the City Planning Commission approved, an elevator on the SW corner of 57th Street and Seventh Avenue which would represent a step towards ADA compliance.  Unfortunately this elevator only brings people down to the mezzanine level of the station so (if the elevator is working) a person in a wheelchair takes it down to the mezzanine/fare control level and then realizes s/he can't get down to the platform and therefore has to take the elevator back up to the sidewalk.   NYCT has described this as "progressive" compliance – as one step towards ADA compliance until they have the resources to finish ADA compliance.  We believe this application represents exactly the right opportunity to finish the job.


Application for Modification of Transit Improvement

Under the zoning rules of the Special Midtown District certain development sites are required to relocate and incorporate an existing subway stair into the new building.  The zoning lot for the proposed building includes the Osborne which is located on the NW corner of West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue.  Therefore, any development on that zoning lot is required to relocate the entrance to the N/Q/R train, which is also located on the NW corner of West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, into their zoning lot.

The applicant has represented in their application that is not feasible to provide an entrance to the subway within their new building for a variety of reasons, none of which were clearly shown in section or elevation or plan, but simply dismissed as impractical or undesirable because of the length of the tunnel which would connect the new building with the subway or underground infrastructure. 


Because the applicant and NYCT believe it is unfeasible or undesirable to create an entrance on their zoning lot or in their new building the applicant is instead proposing to widen the stair and move it approximately 14 feet in order to attempt to meet the requirements of this waiver.


Community Board Five Position

Community Board Five recommends the denial of this application in order to address outstanding issues principally related to ADA access.


For a host of reasons we are deeply troubled that, as a part of this application, NYCT and Extell did not work together to ensure ADA access in a station the NYCT has identified as a priority station:


1)      The City and NYCT have been provided with an opportunity to work with a developer to ensure ADA compliance in a station that NYCT has represented will see an increase in ridership as a result of the Second Avenue subway connection.  

2)      NYCT has been the subject of on-going and persistent litigation relating to ADA compliance by disability advocates.[3]

3)      Extell and NYCT started ADA access at this station in 2007 and this application represents an opportunity to complete it.

4)      Extell has been the beneficiary of tax breaks from the public which total more than the cost of ADA access at this station. 

5)      Given the magnitude of development and the presence of a new Nordstrom store at its base, Extell should see the benefit to its own project of ADA access.


NYCT has not provided CB5 with a clear timeline for the construction and completion of ADA access at the station.  Furthermore, the Extell building, with a significant retail presence, is set to open in 2018.  ADA compliance at this station should be tied to the completion of this building and not a date in the future that is entirely speculative.


Extell has represented that the ADA access is simply too expensive at this station – roughly $30 million dollars based on testimony provided to CB5.  The zoning text does not attempt to prescribe a cost to the improvements that are required to be made as a result of these applications but, given that 217 West 57th Street is a new building which will cost upwards of $1 - 1.5 billion dollars, $30 million dollars represents a small fraction of the overall construction budget.  Coincidentally, $30 million dollars is less than the tax break that Extell received from New York State.


Furthermore, given the fact that NYCT believes ADA access is a priority here and has prepared designs for ADA access, there is an opportunity for NYCT and Extell to fund this improvement together – a public private partnership to ensure access to the transit system for all riders in with a clear timeline and regulatory hook – the completion of the new Extell tower.   


Despite our denial of this application, the Board recognizes that the slightly re-located subway entrance with the additional width is a useful transit improvement.  We also recognize that an expanded sidewalk on Seventh Avenue and the relocation of NYCT buses one block to the south (56th – 57th) are valuable improvements to the streetscape.  By moving buses a block to the south we can help to more clearly define the boundary line of commercial Midtown – below 57th Street – and the Central Park/residential district – above 57th Street.  This will improve sight lines to Central Park from the west side of 7th Avenue which tends to get more pedestrian traffic because of the additional daylight on the west side of the street.  The location of a pick-up/drop-off loading zone for the elderly and handicapped located on the west side of 7th Avenue is also a valuable addition for the area, particularly if there is extra unused space created by a sidewalk bulb out.  The Osborne has submitted a letter in support of these changes.  The Board is eager to continue to work with DOT and the Osborne to insure appropriate regulations are in place on 7th Avenue to move vehicles smoothly and allow appropriate loading and unloading.  While these gestures have merit, a real and accountable plan to provide complete ADA access at this station is essential.

At the regularly scheduled monthly meeting of Community Board Five on Thursday, May 08, 2014, the following resolution passed with a vote of: 31 in favor, 3 opposed, 1 abstained, 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, Although the height of the building is subject to change, the drawings Extell shared with the Community Board during the landmarks review several months ago 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, 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 earlier CB5 resolutions; and

WHEREAS, In connection with the proposed building, there is a zoning requirement that on certain sites within the Special Midtown District a sidewalk subway entrance, in this case in front of the Osborne on the NW corner of West 57th Street and Seventh Avenue, must be relocated into the zoning lot; however, since the subway entrance cannot be relocated into the Osborne, a designated landmark, the applicant is submitting this application; and

WHEREAS, Despite a October 2013 resolution to Extell requesting more information, the Community Board has not been given any meaningful information about the subway improvement until the application was filed; and

WHEREAS, Over the course of the two years there have been a variety of construction challenges as a part of the applicant's other building on West 57th Street, including the need for evacuations of the block; and

WHEREAS, The construction of these new very tall buildings raises new 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 continues to be deeply troubled to learn that the applicant received tax abatements for the construction of 157 West 57th Street for luxury housing; and

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

WHEREAS, Nordstrom – 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, CB5 recognizes the important work of the residents of the Osborne to suggest alternatives to improve streetscape and much of that discussion is included in the attached letter; and 

WHEREAS, Many members of the surrounding area appeared at the CB5's full board meeting during prior applications at this site to raise concerns about this proposed building and we hope that these issues and others finally start a more meaningful and substantive dialogue between Extell and the community in which it seeks to build; and

WHEREAS, a more detailed discussion of this application is included in the attached letter; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommendsdenial of the Application principally because of the failure to ensure ADA access; and, be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five is eager to continue to work with the applicant, elected officials, relevant city agencies (NYCT, DOT, DCP, DOB, LPC, and others) and the surrounding community to ensure that the building that is eventually built responds to the concerns outlined and that by the time that the building at 217 West 57th Street is complete the subway station is ADA accessible.

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/cuomo-donor-generous-stood-save-35m-article-1.1423003#ixzz2blFJwz00

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/25/nyregion/luxe-builders-chase-dreams-of-property-tax-exemptions.html

[3] http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20110721/washington-heights-inwood/mta-agrees-add-elevator-at-dyckman-street-subway-station-following-lawsuit

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