The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Property Owner Plans to Close Playground to Build Retail Space

By Heather Holland | November 24, 2014 7:25am
  Owner of Rivergate Apartments plans to build a one-story retail building in Joseph Slifka Park.
Joseph Slifka Park
View Full Caption

MURRAY HILL — A waterfront apartment complex is trying to get the city’s approval to develop a one-story retail building on top of a children’s public playground.

UDR, the owner of Rivergate apartments at 401-429 E. 34th St., plans to build a 4,000-square-foot retail building on the northwest corner of Joseph Slifka Park, the current home of a public children’s playground and basketball court, according to an application filed with the City Planning Commission.

UDR plans to close the park for the construction of the building, as well as to add a dog run, an artificial turf field and more seating areas, documents show.

This isn’t the first time UDR has taken the public space offline. The property owner previously closed Joseph Slifka Park for more than two years to store garbage and furniture there, while the interior of the 34-story apartment building was being renovated. The park was only recently brought back online this spring, after the Parks Department sent a letter in April to the property owner ordering it to reopen.

UDR has a deal with the city that states that the park must be kept open to the public, Parks spokesman Philip Abramson said in an email in April. The Parks Department did not respond to requests for comment on the new proposal.

UDR and its attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

When Rivergate was built in 1985, the city allowed the developer to build bigger in exchange for also building new park space.

But the property owner built Joseph Slifka Park even bigger than was required, so now the owner is allowed to take some of that park space back and develop it, according to the application.

After UDR and the landscape architects in charge of the design, Mathews Nielsen, presented the plans to Community Board 6 this month, the full board voted Nov. 12 to oppose the plan.

“The board is very concerned about losing any sort of public space,” said CB6 chairman Sandro Sherrod. “We are looking into whether [the plan is] part of the agreement that’s maintained with the city.”

The plan is awaiting approval from the chairman of the City Planning Commission, Carl Weisbrod, who has not set a timeline for making his decision, according to a spokeswoman.

CB6 plans to ask the chairman to hold off on taking any action until the board can get more information about the rules regulating changes to the park.

Under the proposal, UDR will replace the existing playground and basketball courts with a “play space” and a dog run, which hadn’t existed before, according to blueprints. The park previously did not allow dogs in the park at all.

The proposal also depicts a square platform with artificial turf, surrounded by game tables and removable tables and chairs.

Residents who live near the waterfront park had mixed feelings about the plan.

“Nobody uses that park," said Ryan Reszelback, 25, a Rivergate resident. "It’s underutilized and we have green space at St. Vartan Park. I would rather have some retail options — there aren’t enough in the area.”

Some residents, though, lamented the loss of public space.

“The reason the park is underutilized is because [UDR] does everything to make the park inhospitable,” said Eric Goldberg, a resident of Waterside Plaza. “All the equipment has been degraded while it was being a staging ground for their construction.

“[UDR] has taken community space offline for two and a half years.... They continue to search for every opportunity to maximize revenue of this space without community input.”