Rockefeller University Expansion Worries Residents

| 17 Feb 2015 | 12:59

Community with least open space in New York skeptical over Rockefeller University's plans

In the next couple of years, Rockefeller University, the science research university on the Upper East Side, may get city approval to build a 181,000 square foot-expansion by utilizing its air rights.

The expansion, which would provide a new research laboratory building for the university, would spill over into 244 square feet of the East River esplanade -- prompting concerns among residents already worried about a lack of green space in the neighborhood.

The university has been working with Community Board 8 for over a year to fine-tune its plans, which include an agreement to build a noise barrier wall around the campus expansion and an arrangement to beautify its portion of the esplanade.

The university is in the first steps of the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and construction would not begin until the approval process is complete.

But with other big players like Memorial Sloan Kettering making plans to expand along the East River, and the fact that the Upper East Side was recently named the neighborhood with the least open space in New York, residents are possessive over the little public space that they do have.

"We, the local residents and park volunteers, find a troubling disconnect between the proposed project and the city's vision stated in their waterfront plan," said resident Susan Blackwell, in her testimony during the Rockefeller University expansion hearing at the Land Use Committee Hearing. "We want this project to be a positive step for our community."

The city recently released a "New Comprehensive Waterfront Plan 2020" which says that the city will, among other things, expand public access to and enliven the waterfront, as well as improve government regulation of activity on the waterfront including construction and development.

Rockefeller University representatives say that they want to work with the city, and believe in the importance of a waterfront as well. According to the agreement, they will be improving 32,000 square feet of the esplanade.

"The people at Rockefeller don't just work here, we live here too, we use the Esplanade too and we are interested in a good result for everyone," said George Candler, a spokesperson for the university.

And although the expansion that would jut out onto the esplanade would be small, community members are concerned about the shadows that the building would cast over the strip of waterfront greenery, as well as taking away what little greenery they have in the community.

"It's the same issue as the towers casting shadows on 57th Street," said community board member Ed Hartzog. "Shadows clearly diminish your enjoyment of the space, and it will be in darkness most of the day once the sun reaches its apex at noon. People might not want to be out there, especially in the winter."

The Land Use Committee at the community board passed a resolution at the hearing, which takes into consideration several of the community's concerns. First of all, Rockefeller University has agreed to raise the sound barrier from five to eight feet, which would protect the esplanade from noises of the FDR Drive. In addition, the University also agreed to increase their maintenance contract of the esplanade from two to four years, with an option of looking into future investments beyond the requirements. The community also wants the university to look into making their campus more available to the public. Candler said that the university is looking into creating more programs and events for the public to attend.