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New Yorkers Slam Central Park's Shadow-Casting Megatowers

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About a year after a crowded, heated meeting on the same topic, the public has spoken once again on the subject of the many tall towers destined to loom large over Central Park. Neighbors, preservationists, urbanists, and other concerned citizens are, to put it mildly, extremely unhappy. (As are archicritics, by the by.) Concerns range from the shadows they cast to the impact their density has on neighborhood safety and schools—and even the "phallic" nature of the buildings themselves. New Yorkers of all stripes had a chance to air grievances last night at a standing-room-only town hall meeting of Community Board 5's Central Park Sunshine Task Force (yes, that's a thing) at the New York Public Library.

The first meeting of the task force, held in February of 2014, also featured Extell Development's Gary Barnett (behind One57 and the Nordstrom Tower), who defended his projects. The task force leaders have said will take everyone's thoughts into account, and hope to make their final recommendations at Community Board 5's full board meeting in May.

Task force member Layla Law-Gisiko, who also ran the event, kicked off a long series of speakers by touching on the history of New York City zoning, emphasizing how its laws aren't set in stone and have been renewed over the years, and how there's no better time for new zoning laws.

She was followed Clayton Smith, who chairs CB5's Parks & Public Spaces Committee. He talked about the shadows these towers would create and how "megatowers will wall off Central Park." He spoke of 20-degree temperature differences between light and shadow and how he has already seen reports of reduced use of some playgrounds. He said Central Park is a front yard, not a back yard.

CB5's Renee Cafaro talked about safety issues with the tall towers. That includes falling construction equipment and debris, traffic issues caused by the construction leading to slower emergency responses, falling ice and snow, wind, and other quality of life issues. She called for accountability with it comes to construction.

After her, the task force's David Diamond talked about transparency. He asked, "How have glass buildings become so opaque?" Diamond called for more public notification when lots are merged, and lamented how the use of shell companies makes it difficult to even know who owns much of these buildings.

A representative of Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal spoke of her worry of overdevelopment leading to shadows, school issues, transportation issues, and other social services issues. A representative of City Councilman Daniel Garodnick commended the task force and called Central Park the city's "most cherished green space," a place that gives people a break from the "hubbub." Garodnick's representative expressed skepticism of rampant as-of-right development and said "the tail is wagging the dog." A representative of City Councilman Corey Johnson said zoning needs to protect Central Park. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer (herself and not an emissary) called for more transparency when it comes to air rights transfers and also worried about the shadows that would be cast.

The Municipal Art Society's Anand Amin called for actions that would prevent the creation of an "accidental skyline." That includes requiring buildings that use development bonuses above a certain threshold to be subject to some level of public review (Michael Kimmelman would agree), encouraging the City Council to pass legislation to evaluate the effects shadows have on parks and public spaces, having the Department of City Planning notify elected officials and community boards when merged zoning lots are created, and urging the city to pursue "an incentive program for good design so new buildings enhance neighborhood character." Sean Khorsandi of Landmark West!, an Upper West Side preservation group, said "out-of-scale luxury development not only jeopardizes the future enjoyment of Central Park but spreads northward along the east and west sides of the park with deleterious impact upon our neighbors."

As for members of the general public, they had a variety of complaints and suggestions and, in all, 13 of them spoke. (Some submitted written testimony instead.) The best zinger was from a man named Howard Charles Yourow, who happens to sit on the board of the Historic Districts Council, another preservation group. He said we were witnessing the "phallic imperative at work." Many people cried foul about the shadows or a strain on city services. Some people called for a moratorium on these tall buildings, or zoning changes.

A representative of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development called for downzoning, a height limit, environmental impact studies on building taller than 25 stories, operable windows (since not installing them means greater energy usage for ventilation systems), a "sunshine clause," and measures to account for storm surges. One woman said these new towers will be empty buildings that don't offer anything to the community. She also called for new buildings not to be more than 10 floors taller than their sites' previous occupants.

One person called for a public protest against these new buildings, complete with black umbrellas, though someone else said all of this was too little, too late. Another suggested mandating mirrored mylar be used to try to replace some of the light lost by new construction. Still another said these new buildings will be terrorist targets.

Whew, what a motley crew of opinions—some moderate, some extreme—to compile. The task force hopes to present its final recommendations at CB5's full board meeting on Thursday, May 14 at the Xavier High School library at 30 West 16th Street. If not then, then they will be presented at the full board meeting on Thursday, June 11 at the same location.
—Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.

· Hundreds Fret About Superscrapers' Shadows As Extell Rebuts [Curbed]
· The New, Megatower-Filled 57th Street Will Look Like This [Curbed]
· Why 57th Street Is the Supertall Tower Mecca of New York [Curbed]
· Extell's Gary Barnett Defends Himself, Cantilevers, Tall Towers [Curbed]
· Vanity Fair Takes On the Supertall Towers of 57th Street [Curbed]
· Kimmelman: More Public Review Needed for Megatowers [Curbed]

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