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Developer Must Get Community Input Before Building on Park, City Says

  Owner of Rivergate Apartments plans to build a one-story retail building in Joseph Slifka Park.
Joseph Slifka Park
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MURRAY HILL — The city told a developer who wants to build retail space on top of a playground to go back to the drawing board and come up with a design that meets the needs of the community, officials said.

The City Planning Commission will not approve Rivergate Apartments' plan to build a one-story retail building on Joseph Slifka Park until the developer reaches a compromise with residents, a spokeswoman said.

“[Planning] Commissioner Carl Weisbrod has received the community board’s letters and determined the best outcome could be achieved if the applicant worked with the community board and residents of Rivergate to arrive at a design and proposal that is mutually satisfactory,” spokeswoman Rachaele Raynoff said.

Members of Community Board 6 were relieved to learn they'd have more time to negotiate with the developer, according to CB6 chairman Sandro Sherrod.

"[Weisbrod] could've bypassed the community board if he desired, but I'm pleased they didn't take that step," Sherrod said. "We want the public space to be better activated and want to make it more useful for the community."

Rivergate's owner, UDR, presented a plan to CB6 last month to build a 4,000-square-foot retail space on top of an existing children's playground and basketball court next to Rivergate Apartments at 401-429 E. 34th St.

The plan would also include a renovation of the remaining green space, including a new dog run and an artificial turf field, according to the original application. The park would have to shut down for the construction.

CB6 has already begun discussions with UDR about potential community amenities and is asking whether it would be possible to reduce the size of the retail building, Sherrod said.

"Some people want the building smaller and others don't want a retail building there at all," Sherrod said.

CB6 will schedule a public meeting with UDR on Jan. 7, 2015, so that residents take part in the design process, Sherrod said. The time and location have not yet been set.

Rivergate's owner originally built Joseph Slifka Park in 1985 to get permission from the city to build a larger apartment tower.

However, since the developer built the park bigger than was required by the city, UDR is now allowed to take some of that park space back and develop it, according to the application.

Joseph Slifka Park was recently closed for more than two years until the Parks Department forced the UDR to reopen it last April, amid residents' complaints that the park had deteriorated. 

"It's a POP, a privately owned public space, and it's supposed to have been for public use, but it hadn't been," Sherrod said. "It's been used as a staging ground for construction and that was a sore point for the community."