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Redesign of Central Park Lookout Delayed After Criticism

By DNAinfo Staff on May 16, 2011 6:42am

By Jill Colvin

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

CENTRAL PARK — A proposal to redesign of Cherry Hill, one of Central Park's most iconic lookouts, has been delayed after a round of stinging criticism that compared the new design to a parking lot.

The city's Public Design Commission had been expected to weigh in Monday on the Central Park Conservancy’s $1.4 million plan to overhaul the Cherry Hill concourse, which overlooks the Lake just west of Bethesda Terrace.

The plan called for new landscaping and benches as well as tearing out the plaza's concentric circles of asphalt paving and raised red brickwork and replacing it with uniform gray stone intended to mimic the plaza’s original gravel surface.

But after the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission unanimously rejected the bulk of the plan, the conservancy has chosen to delay the vote.

"We're just evaluating the comments," said Lane Addonizio, associate vice president for planning at the conservancy.

She said the group is taking time to consider both the design as well as the presentation and now hopes to submit its final proposal to the commission, which has the last say, some time next month.

The conservancy had based its plan on Cherry Hill's original design as a watering spot for horses drawing carriages. The concourse was given its current look in the 80s as one of the conservancy's first efforts — but now they say they got it wrong.

Because of the different surfaces, they say pedicab and carriage drivers tend to crowd the brick pathway, emphasizing the roadway instead of the landscape.

"The idea is to have more of a sense of enclosure by the greenery, more of a view of the lake," Addonizio had said.

The project is part of a larger $50 million restoration funded half by the conservancy and half by the Parks Department.

But others saw it differently.

Non-profit advocacy group LandmarkWest!, one of several groups that testified against the redesign at an advisory Landmarks Preservation Commission hearing, said it saw "no rational reason to tear apart the elegant and well-functioning Philip Winslow-designed Cherry Hill concourse."

In addition to complementing nearby plazas like Bethesda Terrace, they argued the graded surface makes the circle safer by keeping pedestrians out of the path of the horse-drawn carriages, pedicabs and cyclists that also use the space.

Others slammed the plan as a waste of money and said the design would make the concourse look like a parking lot.

"We are both puzzled and shocked by this proposal," testified Teri Slater, co-chair Defenders of the Historic Upper East Side.

"We cannot fathom why this elegant space is slated for a reconstruction, which is not only unnecessary, but extraordinarily wasteful," said Slater, who accused the conservancy and Parks Department of trying to turn the plaza into parking lot for food trucks.

The Parks Department recently issued a request for a proposals for food carts to sell "top quality cuisine" on the plaza, giving preference to vendors with a "Victorian-era" look.

Commissioners from the Landmarks Preservation Commission also panned the plan.

"I am of the 'if ain't broke, you don't need to fix it' school," said Commissioner Michael Devonshire. "There's nothing in the documents or that I've experienced myself to indicate that this is an extremely deteriorated condition."

Commissioner Margery Perlmutter argued the current paving works just fine.

"Why would you abandon good quality and replace it with untested, poor quality or medium quality?" she asked.

"It's very difficult to see why we would take out what is there now," Commissioner Roberta Washington agreed.

The conservancy, which had hoped to break ground by early July, estimates construction would last four to six months, during which the plaza would be closed to the public.