New Building could strain schools

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:03

New Construction

City leaders eyeing impact of 1,000+ unit apartment building on Upper West Side

Upper West Side City leaders are looking closely at plans for a 1,189-unit apartment building at 606 West 57th Street that's just received approval from the City Planning Commission. Although the project would create construction jobs and make better use of underdeveloped lots, Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal and Borough President Gale Brewer have reservations that they're trying to work through with developer TF Cornerstone.

"I definitely have some concerns about the project," said Upper West Side Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal, who as a former chair of Community Board 7 reviewed a proposal for the nearby Riverside Center, a 616-unit project on West End Avenue. "That guides a lot of my thinking about this particular project," she said.

The biggest issue with Riverside Center and the West 57th Street project, she said, is the effect that an influx of residents has on public services.

"Most importantly, in my mind, schools," said Rosenthal. "I really want to work with the Dept. of Education and city planning to do a better job planning for school demand so we don't have to respond in these crisis situations like we've had to in the past."

However, Rosenthal said she feels limited by a lack of options in creating new schools or otherwise mitigating the impact that residential development has on the educational resources of a neighborhood.

"Right now there's nothing that I can access as a solution, and I think it's to the detriment of the community," said Rosenthal. "So I'm committed to figuring out a way to address the public school needs of this community coming up in the next five, six, ten years. It's going to be overwhelming."

Brewer, in a letter to the planning commission, said the proposed project has plans to go into a community that has seen a number of such large developments in recent years, "and has many more in the pipeline."

"The impacts of each of these projects may not reach the level of significant adverse impacts, but the impact of all of the projects taken together is certainly significant," said Brewer.

Shino Tanikawa, president of Community Education Council 2, in which the proposed building will be located, called for a detailed analysis of the western corridor of district 2 that would take into account the educational impact of all recent development in the district that's occurred. Although she knows such a study is beyond the responsibilities of TF Cornerstone, she'd like to avoid overcrowding issues that she said are a problem in district 1 due to unchecked development.

"Lower Manhattan in district 1 has the worst overcrowding problems because residential development projects were allowed without any consideration for impact on public infrastructure, including schools," said Tanikawa. "Most of them were as-of-right projects, and the city does not have any mechanisms for requiring developers to contribute to public infrastructure. That is what we would like to see changed. We have to learn from our mistakes and start a different process somewhere."

According to TF Cornerstone's final environmental impact statement, the project on West 57th Street wouldn't adversely impact public high schools or middle schools. The report does say that as of 2017, when the project would be completed, elementary schools in that area of district 2 would already be operating with a shortage of seats, and their project would increase that demand 4.7 percent with the introduction of 143 new elementary school students.

The report also details the impact that TF Cornerstone's project would have on child care centers that draw on public funds. By 2017, they project 27 children under the age of six will be introduced to the area and eligible for publicly funded child care.

"With the addition of these children, child care facilities in the study area would operate at a 162 percent utilization rate," says the report. However, their contribution would only represent 8 percent of that rate.