By Carter B. Horsley
The land-use committee of Community
Board 7 expressed many concerns in 2008 about the planned major
redevelopment by Fordham University of its Lincoln Center campus.
It unanimously approved a resolution
disapproving the university's proposed master plan for the site
but stated that it would "strongly consider" approval
of a revised plan that "(a) limited total floor area on the
site to 2,500,000 square feet; (b) substantially reduced the height
of the Amsterdam Avenue buildings; (c) substantially reduced the
height of the Columbus Avenue buildings and reconfigured those
buildings so as not to create monolithic full block-long facades;
(d) provided for mitigation of the probable effects on local schools
of the construction of several hundred private residential units;
and (e) provided for a second tier review and approval by the
Community Board and the City Planning Commission of the actual
design of buildings on the site."
In the Spring of 2009 the City
Planning Commission approved the university's plans, which had
been somewhat revised with some of the towers being made shorter.
The university wanted to add
about 2,350,000 square feet of space to its existing campus on
the "superblock" bounded by Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues
and 60th and 62nd Streets, directly south of the Lincoln Center
for the Performing Arts.
Sidney Goldfisher MD, the president
of the Alfred residential condominium tower at 161 West 61st Street,
which is very close to the site, submitted an 8-page letter for
the community board in opposition to approval of the master plan
stating that "the basic concept behind the master plan and
its current execution are totally inconsistent with the letter
and spirit of the basic principles upon which the campus was created
and therefore is fundamentally flawed." "The wall of
skyscrapers and high rises that Fordham hopes to build on West
62nd Street will break forever the link between the Collegiate
center and the Center for the Performing Arts," the letter
The letter also noted that
many citizens believed that the city's transfer to Fordham of
the two-square-block site "was a gift from the government
to a religious institution and therefore violated the constitutional
separation of church and state," adding that the city "paid
approximately $16.50 a square foot for the land and sold it to
Fordham for $6.50 square foot
.The university's contemptuous
attitude towards the community was expressed at its first meeting
in the winter of 2005
.That meeting began with a disingenuous
statement by Fordham's counsel that Fordham had purchased the
land in the open market and that, 'it is our land and we will
build what we want, where want and when we want.'"
His letter suggested that "an
ethical and workable compromise may yet be attained," but
would require "that the destruction of working class homes
and the forced removal of more than a thousand families from their
homes be memorialized by new educational or community facilities
and not by two 60-story luxury condominiums."
the letter continued, "that 65 percent of the campus remain
open space and that building be more than 20 stories is reasonable
and will provide for sufficient space for realistic expansion
dormitories do not belong in Lincoln Center
campus will have much more in common with a Trump or Extell development
than a collegiate center."
His letter also attacked the
retention of the site's "podium that separates the campus
from the community" and its lack of provision or concern
for the lack of elementary and middle school facilities,"
and "egregious environmental insults including destruction
of St. Peter's garden and two extraordinary stands of white birch
The land-use committee of Community
Board 7 expressed many concerns about the planned major redevelopment
by Fordham University of its Lincoln Center campus.
Richard Asche, the chairman
of the committee, remarked at the end of the lengthy meeting that
he did not "think Columbia [University] ever did anything
this bad," a reference to the perpetual town/gown conflicts
of both Columbia and New York universities with their expansion
in their neighborhoods.
Fordham had been meeting with
the city's Department of Planning prior to having its plans "certified"
into the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP).
Last spring, the university
gave the community board a presentation of its plans, but a spokesman
for the University, Joseph Muriana, told the committee that the
plans had since been refined.
Hope Cohen, the board chairperson,
wrote Amanda M. Burden, the chairperson of the City Planning Commission
to express the board's "deep and extensive concerns"
about the university's master plan.
"The Fordham Master Plan,
if fully executed in the manner presented so far," her letter
stated, "would create a superblock campus walled off from
its neighbors, our community. Fordham proposes 35- and 36-story
academic/dormitory buildings (approximately 450 feet high) along
the Columbus Avenue frontage of the campus (West 60th Street to
West 62nd Street). It proposes lower fortress walls of academic/dormitory
buildings (5-21 stories, approximately 185-235 feet high) along
West 60th Street and West 62nd Street between Columbus and Amsterdam
"And," her letter
continued, "it proposes to pay for much of this construction
by selling two parcels along Amsterdam Avenue to a private developer
for development of luxury residential buildings to tower over
Amsterdam Houses to the west (47-story building, approximately
500 feet high, at Amsterdam & West 60th Street; 57-story building,
approximately 610 feet high, at Amsterdam & West 62nd Street)."
Her letter maintained that
"essentially, Fordham wants to take itself out" of the
Special Lincoln Square Special District. In addition, the letter
questioned the use of real estate development to underwrite not-for-profit
capital and programming costs.
An article by Lois Weiss in
The New York Post said that Fordham was "apparently
in contract to sell its Lincoln Center area development parcels
to New Jersey's Fisch family of Continental Properties,"
adding that "while the price could not be confirmed, the
University needs the sale to bring in at least $300 million to
fund its own redevelopment plan that would double the size of
Mr. Muriana, assistant vice
president of government and public affairs for the university,
told the committee that the university will share refinements
to the plan with the community and that it is a 25-year plan.
Michael Groll, the president
of 44 West 62nd Corporation, the cooperative board of a nearby
building, told the subcommittee that his building and 5 others
on Columbus Avenue were concerned about Fordham's expansion plans.
"We were shocked" that it plans a more "fortress-like"
plan that would put the campus "further away from its neighbors."
"Ignoring the region's
overwhelming traffic congestion and its attendant pollution, Fordham's
proposal calls for an explosive growth in parking on the site
from 35 to 595 cars, a 17-fold increase!" declared Sidney
Goldfischer, the president of the Alfred condo association of
161 West 61st Street, who spoke in opposition to the university's
plan and also wrote a lengthy letter about it to the committee.
Open public spaces, he continued,
would be reduced by 50 percent, adding that "The Law School,
library and new dormitory would be so close to the existing buildings
that they would virtually re-create the dark and stifling airshafts
of the 19th Century tenements that were condemned and demolished
The revised expansion plan
did little to address the fundamental planning issue that way
too much building is planned for such a small site and that no
attempt has been apparently made to relate contextually to Lincoln
Center, which is in the process of brutally destroying much of
its architectural heritage (see The
City Review article).
The existing law school is
quite attractive and its landscaped "podium" is also
attractive. The notion of adding many new buildings to this site
is preposterous. One or two large towers could easily be accommodated
but that option has apparently not been examined or suggested
by anyone. A large part of this problem relates to a great deal
of ambivalence in the design and planning communities to Lincoln
Center. On the one hand, no one argues that the center's varied
cultural activities are significant and fine and have led to a
major redevelopment of a large area of the Upper West Side. On
the other, some observers feel that the complex, and many of its
surrounding unrelated towers, are uninspired and are not much
of an improvement over the tenements that the center replaced.
Part of this is old-fashioned
generational vomit: Out with the old! Bless anything that is new!
Damn the public and the city!
Such simplistic drivel sadly
holds much sway in the community. The community board, of course,
has shown some courage in seeking to lower the heights of some
of the proposed buildings, but it stopped way short of condemning
the plan altogether as a terrible planning exercise. There is
no question that the urbanistic value of Lincoln Center now is
primarily that it provides some "light and air" in this
very much built-up area, an area that certainly has some tall
buildings such as the Time-Warner Center and 3 Lincoln Center.
Educational institutions are
very important but it is shocking and almost beyond belief how
poorly these supposed cultured bodies have demeaned and scarred
the city with very inferior and very unattractive architecture.
The answer is not to make more
historic districts but to rezone Manhattan to take real notice
of the many important changes that have occurred. At one point,
it looked as if the Coliseum would never be replaced and who could
have imagined what a magnet a large Whole Foods store could be
or how horrible the defacing of Alice Tully Hall is to the integrity
of Lincoln Center and why lifted-up lawns and electronic steps
should make us ignore architecture.