Tuesday, May 15, 2007

ZONE THIS: Upper West Side Rezoning Fight Begins - May 10, 2007 - The New York Sun 

Upper West Side Rezoning Fight Begins - May 10, 2007 - The New York Sun

The Upper West Side has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last ten years. The most noteworthy addition is the twin-towered Time Warner Center. It's located at Columbus Circle, the gateway to the UWS.

But, more changes are in the offing. And a zoning battle is brewing between developers and residents.

"People here are furious, still," the president of West Siders for Responsible Development, Miki Fiegel, said of the 37-story Ariel East and 31-story Ariel West. "I look out my window, and see people pointing to the buildings — and shaking their heads."

The Extell Development Co. purchased air rights from a nearby church, and a row of brownstones, enabling the construction of the 300-foot-plus towers. Inside the structures, two- to five-bedroom homes — some commanding prices of more than $3.5 million — boast high-end finishes, park and river views, and amenities such as a private movie theater, a pet spa, and a billiards lounge.

The president of the Real Estate Board of New York, Steven Spinola, said luxury apartments would both increase property values of local homeowners, and bring more upscale retail. He said he worried that the city's proposal would discourage some muchneeded residential development in the area, adding: "This is a wide street — this is Broadway — and it's where you want to encourage bigger and taller buildings." Occupancy for Ariel East and Ariel West is scheduled for July and September, respectively. More than twothirds of the units have been sold, according to a spokesman for Extell, George Arzt. "The new zoning is bad for the architecture of the community because the buildings are going to be really chunky," he said. "But, it's good for our project because the views will be unobstructed."

The planning department is proposing a neighborhood rezoning that, while increasing slightly the maximum squarefootage of developments, would impose height limits for avenues and side streets, respectively; force developers to erect structures flush with the street wall, and restrict the transfer of air rights from mid-blocks to avenues. Under the proposal, certain buildings along Broadway could rise to a maximum of 145 feet, which is less than half the height of either Ariel tower.

The new zoning would also provide incentives for developers to include below market-rate housing in their residential projects. The planning department's proposal would affect the northern portion of the Upper West Side — bounded by 97th and 110th streets to the south and north, and Riverside Drive and Central Park West to the east and west.

Residents have benefited from the huge increase in property values and a new influx of residents have added to the vitality of the area. However, at what point will residents and UWS denizens say enough is enough? And who is to decide what is enough? Some feel that the government should interfere with the market process by applying arbitrary zoning decisions. Others believe that developers, buyers and residents will determine the future of the vaunted neighborhood.


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