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Locals Worry Cornell Tech Tower Will Block Views of Queensboro Bridge

 The campus's first residential building will contain more than 350 units.
Cornell Tech Residential Tower
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Cornell Tech will move ahead with its first residential building after Community Board 8 approved the school’s plan despite concerns from several members that the 26-story tower on Roosevelt Island would block views of the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge.

On Wednesday, representatives from Cornell Tech presented designs for the campus’s first residence — a 270,000-square-foot building that will house roughly 500 graduate students, faculty and staff in 356 units. The building will feature a high-performance exterior wall designed to increase the tower’s energy efficiency and a ground-level terrace for residential use.

“The idea is to set a new bar for energy efficiency in New York’s residential buildings,” said Blake Middleton of Handel Architects.

But several board members expressed concerns about the height of the building, which will stand adjacent to the Ed Koch-Queensboro Bridge.

“I feel that this this building is very disrespectful to the bridge,” said community board member Teri Slater at the meeting. “We’ve been able to look from Manhattan to the bridge for maybe 100 years. Why go with the tower form when it will obscure that view?”

Other board members echoed her concerns, also noting that situating the residential tower so close to the planned education center would have the effect of visually walling off the campus from the rest of Roosevelt Island. They suggested that the design should be more like the low-lying academic buildings that Cornell has previously presented.

Andrew Winter, Cornell Tech’s director of capital projects and planning, said that the school had to balance its needs for academic and residential space with the city’s requirement that the campus contain 20 percent open public space.

“Once you start to build a few of those, you use up a lot of your space,” Winter said in reference to the lower buildings that will house labs and work space. “Without towers, you would limit the university’s ability to expand its academic facilities or limit the open, public space.”

Winter also noted that the building would top out at 285 feet, although Cornell had received permission from the city to build up to 320 feet on the site. In addition, she noted, the residential tower and the education center will be set at a 45-degree angles to create a sight-line for pedestrians through the buildings.

Other board members were supportive of the plan and praised Cornell for decreasing the overall footprint of the building, as well as incorporating public space into the campus.

“We live in a city where we have to make compromises,” said CB 8 member Jonathan Horn. “Either your build up or your build out. Building up is the way to keep open space, which we don’t have enough of to begin with.”

The board ultimately voted to approve the plan. Cornell still must seek approval from the city’s Public Design Commission before any building can begin.