NEWS AND ISSUES


Testimony Before the New York City Planning Commission Regarding Fordham Universityfs Lincoln Square Master Plan

by:
U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler
New York State Senator Thomas K. Duane
New York State Assemblymember Richard N. Gottfried
New York State Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal

March 4, 2009

We are the State and Federal legislators representing Fordham Universityfs Lincoln Square Campus and the blocks surrounding it. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony before the New York City Planning Commission on Fordhamfs Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application (Lincoln Square Master Plan).

We understand Fordhamfs desire to expand its Lincoln Square Campus and appreciate the benefits that Fordham brings to our neighborhood and City. We further appreciate the modifications that Fordham has made to its proposal as a result of negotiations with Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, including a significant reduction in street wall height along Columbus Avenue, a widening of the corresponding sidewalk and the elimination of an employee parking garage with a maximum capacity of 265 spaces ("Garage B").

However, we oppose Fordham's proposal to construct a fortress-like campus on the superblock bordered by Lincoln Center, Amsterdam Houses, P.S. 191, and numerous residential buildings. We are concerned that the special permits for height and setback that Fordham insists are needed to accommodate the thousands of new residents, students, and employees it proposes to bring to the area would adversely impact this densely populated neighborhood.

The New York City Zoning Resolution states that the New York City Planning Commission (CPC) may, by granting special permits, waive the regulations that apply in the Special Lincoln Square District only if the Commission finds that such special permits are necessary to "facilitate good design." The University's proposed Master Plan is at odds with this criterion and other stated purposes of the Special Lincoln Square District, and would have unfavorable consequences for thousands of our constituents. We believe that if the site must be redeveloped, it should be done as-of-right within existing requirements, or with minimal zoning waivers.

Height, Setbacks, and Bulk

One of the general purposes of the Special Lincoln Square District is: "to encourage a desirable urban design relationship of each building to its neighbors and to Broadway as the principal street..." We believe that Fordham's Master Plan is at odds with this principle. The proposed uninviting, fortress-like distribution of bulk would integrate poorly with the surrounding neighborhood.

The combination of massive heights and minimal setbacks would dwarf the vast majority of the surrounding buildings, including the New York City Housing Authorityfs Amsterdam Houses and Amsterdam Addition and P.S. 191, which are located directly across Amsterdam Avenue from the sites of the proposed residential towers. The low-rise character of Amsterdam Houses – each building is between six and thirteen stories – is uniquely contextual in a City that too often opted to build tower-in-the-park developments. The proposed structures on Amsterdam Avenue and West 62nd Street would drastically overwhelm these smaller buildings, and would cast looming shadows on the P.S. 191 playground and Lincoln Center. We applaud Borough President Stringerfs progress in negotiating a significant redistribution of bulk along Columbus Avenue, but we are still concerned about the potential loss of light and air for neighboring residential buildings across the avenue.

However, the non-compliant bulk would result in five new buildings with heights greatly exceeding what is permitted as-of-right. The most egregious examples are the Amsterdam Avenue towers, which would exceed zoning envelopes by several hundred feet.

Additionally, waiving the minimum 40- to 50-feet required between windows and lot lines on Amsterdam Avenue would compound the adverse impacts on light and air. This requirement is a common feature of high-density commercial and residential districts. It is a crucial design component, and should not be overlooked.

Infrastructure

The significant projected influx in on-campus population, including new permanent residents, would aggravate overcrowding on local bus routes, particularly in light of proposals by the MTA to reduce or eliminate bus service on the M10 and M104 bus lines. The projected increases in pedestrian circulation and transit ridership must also be considered in combination with the other proposed and in-progress developments in the vicinity

Fordham's Lincoln Center campus is located at the southern end of Community School District 3, where there is an urgent need to address school overcrowding. Although the New York City Department of City Planning does not mandate that Environmental Impact Statements address local school capacity, the impact of the proposed private residential towers, in conjunction with the proposed Riverside Center one avenue away, on nearby public schools should be considered an essential measure of the strain of overdevelopment on infrastructure. While we sincerely appreciate Fordham's proposal to provide academically-oriented support to local public school programs, any significant residential development at this site should also include a new public school.

Design

The CPC may only grant special permits to waive the regulations of the Special Lincoln Square District to "facilitate good design." At CB7's Full Board meeting in January, a land use counsel to Fordham asserted that this criterion should be interpreted to mandate good urban design, rather than good building design. We do not share this interpretation, but should it prevail we would nonetheless argue that the proposal does not satisfy the stated requirement. As the resolution adopted by CB7 that evening rightly noted, the Master Plan is "antithetical to good urban design." The resolution rejecting Fordhamfs application further states that the proposed design "radiates hostility towards its neighbors and isolates itself within the community." With respect to building design, CB7 finds that, "because the Master Plan does not include designs for a single building, and [because] the design of some of the buildings will not occur for decades, it is not possible to conclude that [this stipulation] has been complied with." We therefore urge the CPC to adopt CB7's recommendation for second-tier review of the entire project.

Conclusion

Fordham University is an important part of the Lincoln Square community, and we value its presence. However, we oppose this Master Plan without more revisions. We urge the University to continue to work with its neighbors, Community Board 7, and the local elected officials to develop an alternative that would more successfully integrate with the neighborhood.

We therefore urge the City Planning Commission to disapprove the current application. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.


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