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Land Use, Housing & Zoning

53 W 53rd Street, W2005/Hines West Fifty-Third Realty, LLC, application for two special permits to facilitate the construction of an 82-story mixed-use building.

WHEREAS, The applicant proposes to construct a mid-block 82 story mixed-use building at 53 West 53rd Street which would contain a 100 room hotel, 150 residential units, a block-through lobby, a cellar restaurant and a loading dock on West 54th Street; and

WHEREAS, The proposed building would sit on the western end of a merged zoning lot which stretches from just east of 6th Avenue to Fifth Avenue and would require Special Permits for the transfer of 136,000 square feet of floor area from the University Club at Fifth Avenue at West 54th Street under section 74-79 of the Zoning Resolution and another  275,000 square feet from St. Thomas Church under Section 74-711 of the Zoning Resolution; and

WHEREAS, The applicant also seeks waivers under Section 74-711 to permit the distribution of floor area without regard to zoning district boundaries (the proposed building site sits on two different zoning districts),  height and setback requirements, pedestrian circulation space and rear yard equivalent requirements; and

WHEREAS, The proposed building was designed by Jean Nouvel as a slender, glass-clad tower which would be a significant architectural addition to the city but would rise on its mid-block location to 1,250 feet in height and would be one of the tallest buildings in the city -- which will, on a winter day, cast a shadow in Central Park; and

WHEREAS, The proposed building would include nearly 52,000 square feet in new space for the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), increasing its gallery space by approximately 39 percent; and

WHEREAS, This Board reviewed the landmark aspect of this application in March 2008 and determined that the proposed tower was not harmonious with the existing landmarks and recommended that the Landmarks Preservation Commission deny the transfer of air rights from the University Club and St. Thomas Church; and

WHEREAS, The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted to approve the air rights transfer in May of 2008; and

WHEREAS, This Board also recommended that the City Planning Commission review the environmental impacts of traffic congestion from the construction of this building using a river-to-river analysis and a cumulative look at the impacts of the new building on local schools and emergency services; and

WHEREAS, While the CPC expanded the scope of the reviewing area somewhat for limited purposes, a river-to-river analysis of congestion was not performed and the building was generally not found to have a significant environmental impact on the area except as to shadows during the summer months; and

WHEREAS, The north side of West 54th Street is residential and the neighborhood has recently been subject to a multi-year construction project associated with the Museum of Modern Art; and

WHEREAS, There are now over half a dozen loading docks on West 54th Street and the use, or lack of use, of loading docks by MoMA and others on the block has created significant traffic congestion in the area; and

WHEREAS, Although MoMA may have taken some steps to lessen the impact of loading activity on West 54th Street, it has generally developed very bad relations with its residential neighbors and is not perceived to treat residential concerns seriously; and

WHEREAS, While the applicant has agreed to provide a liaison to the community during construction who will work with the Board and the community in minimizing the impacts of construction, the construction of such a large building will undoubtedly cause major disruptions to mid-town traffic and numerous other noise and pollution problems in the immediate vicinity of the project; and

WHEREAS, Although the Board is not concerned with the various waivers as to district boundaries, height, setback, rear-yard and pedestrian circulation space because these waivers would help to enhance the beauty and the practicality of the proposed building, the Board is concerned that the proposed tower is simply too large for its site; and

WHEREAS, Although the benefits of new maintenance plans for the University Club and St. Thomas Church, an important new architectural addition to the City and more public gallery space at MoMA would not be insignificant, the Board finds that the transfer of development rights would unduly increase the bulk of the proposed building such that the benefits are outweighed by the burdens associated with such a tall new building on this midblock site; therefore be it

RESOLVED, That Community Board Five denies the 53 W 53rd Street, W2005/Hines West Fifty-Third Realty, LLC application for two Special Permits under Sections 74-79 and 74-711 of the Zoning Resolution.

The above resolution passed by a vote of 30 in favor, 9 opposed, 1 abstaining, one present not entitled to vote.

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