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Stop Building Towers That Darken Central Park, Locals and Officials Say

By Mathew Katz | February 20, 2014 8:37am
 Rendering of the view from a resident's living room at One57, one of several new "supertowers" coming to 57th Street.
Rendering of the view from a resident's living room at One57, one of several new "supertowers" coming to 57th Street.
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MIDTOWN — A panel on giant towers near Central Park became a pummeling session Wednesday night as politicians, experts and locals all slammed Midtown's rising skyscrapers for the shadows they will cast on public space.

In a packed house at the New York Public Library, nearly every speaker at the Town Hall on Central Park Supertowers complained that the huge structures planned for the area, many 70 stories or more, would ruin the public's enjoyment of Central Park while providing pricey apartments for the rich.

“This is the debasement of a great public resource, used by millions, for the benefit of an elite few," said author and journalist Warren St. John, to widespread applause.

"My argument is shadows make the park less pleasant."

The sole voice supporting the developments was Gary Barnett, president of Extell Development, which is in the middle of building the 75-story One57 tower.

Sitting with his arms crossed and frequently shaking his head, Barnett was a punching bag as opponents called for harsher reviews of the skyscrapers and even a moratorium on mega-developments. 

"I think we need to keep it in context — we don't need to overreact," Barnett said. 

He defended One57's shadow, claiming it would only be cast on Central Park for a few minutes a day — and he argued that shadows were already there.

"The southern part of the park is covered in beautiful trees, which already provide shade," Barnett said.

The multitude of towers planned for the area also includes 215 W. 57th St., which will be 1,550 feet; 432 Park Ave., which will be 1,398 feet; and 107 W. 57th St., which will be 1,350 feet.

The new wave of skyscrapers is the result of developers combining lots and taking advantage of zoning controls that were established in the 1980s — before the tall, thin towers were technologically possible, panelists said.

The standing-room-only forum, hosted by Community Board 5, brought out hundreds of people, including politicians from across Manhattan, many of whom complained that the towers largely housed foreign investors who did not live in Manhattan full-time.

"None of these buildings weave into our community, contribute to our community in any meaningful way," said City Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents parts of Midtown and the West Side.

He and others suggested tightening zoning codes and requiring more public disclosure of plans for tall buildings. Johnson added that he hoped the proliferation of huge towers would end now that Bill de Blasio is mayor.

Community Board 5 set up a "Sunshine Task Force" in 2013 to evaluate the impact of several tall towers set for construction along 57th Street near Central Park. The board will eventually produce a detailed report on the issue.

But many at the forum had already made up their mind, saying that the towers had the potential to transform the way Central Park is enjoyed for years to come.

"Central Park is not my backyard — it's everyone's backyard," St. John said. "This is about the backyard of New York City, not any one person's private space."