KIPS BAY — The owner of a waterfront apartment complex will be allowed to build a retail building on part of a park it owns without going through the city's formal public review process, a local community board decided last week.
Community Board 6 was split over a resolution that would have called on the owner of the Rivergate apartment complex at 401 E. 34th St. to go through a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) in order to build its retail building on a corner of the park.
While some thought the project needed to go through more rigorous review because the developer had promised to keep it a public space, others say a 33-year-old agreement with the city gives the developer the right to convert some of the space into retail use.
The uniform land-use review process, or ULURP, is required for any owner wishing to change the use of publicly owned land, and requires plans to be approved by the community board, City Planning department and City Council.
After initially planning a resolution that would push UDR, the owner of Rivergate, to go through this process, the board decided it couldn't because Slifka Park is not city land, according to a Department of City Planning spokesman.
Ultimately, CB6 voted 17-11 against the resolution.
If the plan gets final approval, UDR's new building would go up on the northwest corner of the park at First Avenue and East 35th Street, and the project will revamp the entire park in the process — installing a new dog run and an artificial turf field, according to an early version of the project's application.
The construction will result in the temporary closure of the park.
The owner of Rivergate is required to maintain the public space on the property through a deal made in 1982 between the original developer and the city that led to the creation of Slifka Park. But the developer built the park larger than was required, which gives UDR leeway to revert some of it to private use.
UDR originally brought its plans before the Community Board last year but after the board opposed the plan, the Department of City Planning ordered the firm to consult at greater length with community stakeholders.
After a back-and-forth in which Community Board members asked UDR to minimize the loss of open space, the company eventually redrew its plans and reduced the planned retail building from 4,000 to 2,000 square feet, according to Terence O'Neal, chair of the board's Land Use and Waterfront Committee.
"Our prime concern was the loss of open space on the site due to a planned retail building shown in the first design," O'Neal told DNAinfo in an email. "While we did not get what we wanted, the majority of CB6 agrees that the compromise (reduction in area of the proposed retail building) is much better than denying the community the improvements really needed for this plaza."
The company submitted its revised plan to the department in July, and the agency signed off on them, a spokesman said. The plan must now get approval from the Department of Buildings.
But some residents are still skeptical of the plan. According to the interpretation of some members of the Community Board, UDR’s promise to maintain public space at the park made the park subject to a ULURP process. The Community Board does not have the authority to mandate a rezoning review process, but as an advisory board its say-so could have swayed the hand of the agencies like the Department of Buildings, whose approval UDR needs to move forward, some members said.
The Land Use and Waterfront Committee narrowly passed the resolution on to the full board, where members spent more than an hour heatedly debating the issue. To some, the fact that Slifka Park is designated as public space was enough to warrant a more rigorous review of UDR’s plans.
“Last year we passed a resolution saying ‘don’t take our open space away,'” said board member John West. “We all swore an oath to defend the city charter, and we need to do that here.”
UDR did not return multiple requests for comment.