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Carter's View

The Sheldon H. Solow plan for the redevelopment of the Con Ed facilities along the East River south of the United Nations came under sharp attack last night at a meeting of the land-use committee of Community Board 6 during a "informal" presentation of its bulk configurations by Marilyn Taylor of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Richard Meier, the plan?s architects.

Ms. Taylor said that the commercial space component of the plan has been reduced to about 1.1 million square feet and that the overall development, including residential space, was about 5 million square feet, or a FAR (floor-to-area-ratio) of 12.

Edward Rubin, the chairman of the land-use committee, noted, however, that a 12 FAR was based on the project?s "demapped" streets and that if the streets were "remapped" the actual FAR was about 13.5. He noted that several large residential towers just to the south had FARs of about 10.5 and many in the audience indicated in their comments that they felt the present plan was too dense.

Mr. Rubin said that the community does not agree with the "mandate" given to the architects by Mr. Solow, adding that the plan "cannot be developed in a vacuum" and that there exists "a serious disconnect" between the Solow plan and a comprehensive approach to the site that would focus on the removal of the elevated exit ramp from the FDR Drive at 42nd Street and the riverfront.

John West, a member of the committee presented plans that showed how the removal of the ramp could lead to broad bridges over the drive, if not, a very large deck, that would dramatically enlarge open spaces and provide access to a waterfront park on what is now a former parking lot for Con Ed that is owned by the city. Mr. West and Mr. Rubin said the community was frustrated by delays by city and state agencies in addressing plans for the site.

Mr. Rubin said that Donald Trump?s Trump World Tower on First Avenue at 47th Street "dealt a serious blow" to the community by not respecting the 505-feet height of the Secretariat Building at the United Nations and was "out of scale and color." One member of the audience, which included many neighborhood residents, said that in comparison with the Solow scheme the Trump World Tower was "very elegant," a notion, she added, she thought she "never could say."

The Solow plan calls for two residential towers east of First Avenue between 35th and 36th Streets, one residential tower on the west side of First Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets, and four towers, all residential except for one that combined offices and residences, east of Fifth Avenue between 38th and 41st Streets. The mixed-use tower would be on the southeast corner of First Avenue and 41st Street.

The plan would extend 39th and 40th Streets to the FDR Drive at the elevation of First Avenue and have a large central open space east of First Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets including a large, elliptical model-boat pond/skating rink with low-rise pavilion closest to the avenue and a broad lawn to the east.

Frank Sanchis, the executive director of the Municipal Art Society, said that the lack of coordination by public agencies regarding the site was "inappropriate." He said that the New York State Register of Historic Places recently found the two old power plants on the site "ineligible based on a lack of integrity," a decision he said his organization questions, adding that the decision had "no public input." Some preservationists have indicated that at least one of the plants should be preserved.

A neighborhood resident criticized the Solow plan for not having a "cultural venue." A large powerplant along the Thames in London was converted a couple of years ago into the Tate Modern museum.

One resident in the neighborhood asked if "anyone [in the audience feels the plan is attractive" and no one raised their hand or said yes.
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.
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