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Butterfly Habitat Among Features of 70th Street East River Esplanade Plan

By Shaye Weaver | November 23, 2015 4:18pm
 The Hospital for Special Surgery is planning to finish its section of the East River Esplanade by the summer of 2016.
Hospital for Special Surgery Reveals Plans for Esplanade
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UPPER EAST SIDE — The East River Esplanade could soon feature its own butterfly habitat, thanks to the Hospital for Special Surgery's plan to upgrade a section of the waterfront.

The hospital agreed to pitch in to activate a portion of the waterfront earlier this year, as part of its $15.8 million plan to expand its west wing and build three additional operating rooms at its existing campus next to the FDR Drive and East 70th Street.

It unveiled its plans to upgrade the crumbling waterfront last week, including lush greenery ideal for attracting butterflies and an 8-foot-tall sound barrier along the FDR Drive separating the road from the green space between 70th and 72nd streets.

"Hudson River Park is a magnificent resource for West siders, but our narrow and ugly patch of the East River has been desperately crying out for attention for years," said Upper East Side resident Diana Phillips during a public presentation of the proposal.

"It finally sounds like that may happen, which is very exciting. I just hope they move quickly as I've been waiting for this for almost 50 years and I'm not getting any younger," she continued.

By next summer, HSS will install plantings along the sound barrier, that would work to hide the sound barrier as well as provide an inviting habitat for butterflies, according to Alison Shipley from Quennell, Rothschild & Partners, which is designing the greenspace. 

The plantings will include Japanese holly, fragrant sumac and grey birch trees, as well as native perennials and grasses, Shipley said.

Existing trees will be relocated into new pits close to the water, she added.

HSS also plans to repair the bulkheads and seawall beneath that portion of the esplanade and install a new fountain with a bottle filler. Plans for irrigation are still in the works, Shipley said.

In addition, more than a dozen vintage-style benches, modeled after ones seen in the city before 1964, will be placed in groups of two across the new esplanade and new light poles will be installed, she said.

The narrow strip of esplanade, roughly 13 feet wide, will be also be decked with new asphalt hexagonal blocks. 

Councilman Ben Kallos and residents also suggested including engravings in the pavement that recognizes notable medical discoveries or doctors who accomplished major works at the hospital.

"We're for pushing it to the next level," said Jennifer Ratner, a board member of the Friends of the East River Esplanade, a community group committed to improving the waterfront. "We're not talking about putting another High Line here, but this is something for the next generation to use. To use our waterfront, they will want something a little zippier than hexagonal pavers and 1964 benches from when their grandparents were born."

Community members also called on HSS to create a seamless transition to Rockefeller University's portion of the esplanade, which stretches from East 64th Street to the centerline of East 68th Street.

By the spring of 2018, Rockefeller University will put in a shared-use lane for cyclists and pedestrians, additional seating, landscaping and crash and sound barriers between the FDR drive and the esplanade, according to its plans.

HSS's section, located north of the Rockefeller University project, is narrower and won't have room for a designated bike lane. But the hospital is considering ways to slow down cyclists, such as adding a tread to the road or signage. 

Kallos said he is speaking with the New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, which is currently constructing an ambulatory care center, about how it could improve the waterfront near its complex, from East 68th to East 70th streets.

"The esplanade from East 60th to East 81st streets is having a monumental shift," Kallos said.