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Parks & Public Spaces

Proposal by One Vanderbilt Owner LLC (SL Green) for the design of the public plaza in front of One Vanderbilt

WHEREAS, One Vanderbilt Owner LLC (SL Green) ("Applicant") proposes the design for the public plaza to be installed in front of its new office building, One Vanderbilt, located between Madison Avenue and Grand Central Terminal and East 42nd and East 43rd Streets (the “Plaza”), which was approved as part of the Vanderbilt Avenue rezoning in 2015; and

WHEREAS, The Plaza is expected to accommodate an estimated 5,500 pedestrians per hour at peak times on weekdays to and from Grand Central Terminal, in addition to several thousand more pedestrians crossing 42nd Street south of the Plaza; and

WHEREAS, The Plaza will be approximately 200’ long and 60’ wide, and will connect with no change in grade to the sidewalk on the northern side of 42nd Street (whose width is being increased to 14’), and the sidewalk on the southern side of 43rd Street, and is to be constructed from a combination of flamed and smooth finish pavers which will be slip-resistant; and

WHEREAS, Five circular planting areas are proposed to be located in alignment down the midpoint of the Plaza, each measuring 20’ in diameter and containing one columnar tree and seasonal plantings; with the earth and grass within to be domed in order to accommodate sufficient root depth for the trees and plantings; and

WHEREAS, Cornell University has been chosen to oversee the horticultural needs of the trees and plantings in the discs, including the responsibility of pruning them regularly to allow for maximum sightlines and open space across the Plaza; and

WHEREAS, The edge of each of the discs will allow for people to momentarily sit, but is not of sufficient width to allow for people to sit for an extended period of time, in order to ensure that the primary function of the space is to accommodate pedestrian through-traffic; and

WHEREAS, Each of the five discs will be underlit, to cast an appealing light onto the plaza at night while also taking account of public safety considerations; and

WHEREAS, There will be no vehicular through-traffic permitted in the Plaza at any time, including that of emergency vehicles, which both the NYC Fire and Police Departments have evaluated and found satisfactory given the other emergency vehicle routes available in the surrounding blocks; and

WHEREAS, As per the current policy of the city, permanent bollards will be installed along the curbline of the sidewalks at 42nd and 43rd Streets, to ensure that no vehicular traffic can enter the Plaza at any time; and

WHEREAS, Since the existing bollards on the eastern edge of Vanderbilt Avenue, adjacent to Grand Central Station, will serve no purpose once the new bollards are installed, and will in fact impede pedestrian flow from Grand Central Station, especially for people carrying luggage, and since both the NYC Fire and Police Departments do not deem them necessary for public safety, Community Board Five agrees with Applicant that they should be removed, but as the agency with oversight of this item, the MTA has not committed to their removal; and

WHEREAS, There will be no vending or concessions in the Plaza at any time, given the rules governing pedestrian plazas adopted by the city, and the commitment of the Applicant not to seek any such elements in the Plaza; and

WHEREAS, The planter discs effectively act as a deterrent to any event producers who would like to use the Plaza for a commercial event, something of significant value to Community Board Five; and

WHEREAS, Due to the implementation of site-specific plaza rules employed in Times Square regarding costumed characters and other commercial activity, there is now a framework for establishing a similar system in any other plaza in the city, and the Grand Central Partnership maintains a keen interest in quickly proposing similar rules for this Plaza, should the need become apparent, an issue with which the Applicant and Community Board Five find full agreement; and

WHEREAS, As there is no plan for any tables or seating in the Plaza, Community Board Five approves of the general guiding principle of the Plaza’s design that pedestrian flow and navigation should be the first priority in this important public space, and that seating of any kind is unlikely to be aligned with that goal, and encourages Applicant to be extremely cautious when considering limited, temporary tables or seating in the future; and

WHEREAS, Given the priority of pedestrian through-traffic, Community Board Five has some concerns that the size and number of the planter discs actually may occupy too much of the available public space that could otherwise be available for accommodating pedestrian flow, and encourages Applicant to consider this potential issue, by considering a reduction in the number of discs in the design; and

WHEREAS, The Grand Central Partnership has assumed responsibility for monitoring and basic maintenance of the Plaza, including patrolling and cleaning the area, but the Applicant has committed to assume the responsibility of repair and replacement of the pavers, the care of the trees and seasonal plantings, and after-hours security officers, who will be on hand without interruption; and

WHEREAS, The Applicant and the Grand Central Partnership are working with Breaking Ground, a homelessness service group, to address the needs of homeless persons present in the Plaza; and

WHEREAS, The Plaza will also have one area north of the line of planters which would be made available for public art installations, as part of the public art program of the Department of Transportation, but Community Board Five would like to see some detailed parameters about how large an area is meant to be used for this purpose; and

WHEREAS, Community Board Five questions the width of the bullnose design of the edge of the discs, although important for housing the underlighting equipment, since it may also still encourage people to sit for extended periods of time, and also invite their use by people riding skateboards; and

WHEREAS, Although it is just outside the borders of the Plaza itself, Community Board Five believes that DOT should consider extending the crosswalk along 42nd St so that it is widened to be the width of Vanderbilt itself, for accessibility reasons; and

WHEREAS, Construction on the Plaza is expected to commence in November 2019, with completion expected in July 2020 to coincide with the opening of One Vanderbilt, scheduled for September 2020; and

WHEREAS, The Plaza has the expressed support of the Regional Plan Association, the Grand Central Partnership, the New York Building Congress, and the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, and the Association for a Better New York; and

WHEREAS, The new Plaza will provide significantly increased space for pedestrian flow, and will serve as a welcoming area to both pedestrians and tourists; and

WHEREAS, The Applicant agrees to provide Community Board Five with any revisions to the proposed design of the Plaza as it moves through the Public Design Commission’s  review process, and return to a public hearing of CB5 at CB5’s discretion; therefore, be it

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends approval of the proposal by One Vanderbilt LLC (SL Green) for the design of the public plaza in front of One Vanderbilt, with the conditions that the Applicant consider Community Board Five’s concerns about maximizing the available space for pedestrian through-traffic in regard to the size and number of the five proposed planter discs; and also to consider reducing the width of the bullnose design of the edges of the planter discs; and be it further

RESOLVED, Community Board Five recommends that the DOT consider the widening of the crosswalk at 42nd Street for accessibility purposes, so that it is as wide as Vanderbilt Avenue; and

RESOLVED, Community Board Five strongly recommends the removal of the existing bollards on the eastern edge of Vanderbilt Avenue adjacent to Grand Central Station, so long as the NYC Fire and Police Departments continue to deem them unnecessary for public safety purposes, and strongly urges the MTA to expeditiously execute their removal.

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