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Plan to House Commuting Students at Cornell Tech Will Crowd F Train: Locals

By Shaye Weaver | February 16, 2017 10:16am
 The House, the tall building pictured at the right-center, will house Weill Cornell medical students in addition to Cornell Tech students and staff.
The House, the tall building pictured at the right-center, will house Weill Cornell medical students in addition to Cornell Tech students and staff.
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Cornell Tech

ROOSEVELT ISLAND — A recently-announced plan to house several dozen Weill Cornell medical students at Cornell Tech's new campus has residents worried that the extra commuters to Manhattan will clog up the few transportation options they have.

Cornell Tech completed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for its sprawling 4-building campus — which is still under construction — back in March 2013, measuring how the addition of hundreds of new residents might affect local transportation, air quality, the local economy and other resources on the island.

While the study accounted for Cornell affiliates living on campus, it did not specifically account for the 66 units the school plans to dedicate to Weill Cornell Medicine personnel.

Residents first learned about plans to offer housing to Weill Cornell students — including post-doctorates and a small number of visiting academics — at Cornell Tech's new dormitory building during a construction update meeting with school officials on Jan. 31, they said.

And they're concerned that the addition of commuters from the island would end up crowding the F train and tram, the only two ways off the island other than public buses.

"This invalidates the transportation study," said Jeffrey Escobar, president of the Roosevelt Island Residents Association and co-chair of Community Board 8's Roosevelt Island committee.

"The study did not look at the impacts of having a commuting community coming in," he said. "It was one of the main contentious points as part of the lease agreement with the city. Approval was based upon the assumption that the entirety of the community is self-contained, not a community going back and forth [from Manhattan]."

The Cornell Tech campus, being developed on the southern end of the island near the Queensboro Bridge, will include one 25-story residential building, called The House, with 352 apartments total, including the 66 units that are being set aside for the medical students.

In the first five years after the campus opens in August, the school will not have a large enough student body to fill all the apartments in the dormitory, which is why officials are looking to fill the space in the interim, according Julie Delay, senior director of Human Resources and Campus-wide Initiatives at Cornell Tech.

She added that the number of commuting medical students is too small to make a difference on local infrastructure.

"We do not anticipate this will affect rush hour commuting on the island," Delay said. "Commuting patterns for medical students and professionals are atypical and vary widely."

The city's Economic Development Corporation, which oversees development on city land, agreed, noting that the number of units dedicated to Weill Cornell students will decrease each year beginning in its eighth year of operation to make room for more Tech students, a spokesman said.

The project's EIS takes into account hundreds of Cornell Tech and Cornell-affiliated students and faculty who will be living off-campus and will be commuting to and from the island to get to class and work.

Assemblywoman Rebecca Seawright, who attended the Jan. 31 meeting, said she was surprised by the announcement, but after looking into the lease between Cornell and the city, determined that the school was within its rights to include housing for Weill Cornell.

She pointed to language in the lease that states that for the first 10 years the school is open, residents of the campus may include "university-related persons without restriction on whether or not such person is involved with the overall project" — though she encouraged residents to reach out to her with any concerns.

She did not provide a copy of the lease to DNAinfo New York.

"I invite the community to submit questions to my office so that we can make sure they are answered at the upcoming Town Hall prior to the opening of the campus this summer," Seawright said.

The House is already taking applications for apartments with a May deadline.

The Roosevelt Islander blog first reported the story.

Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the scope of the project's Environmental Impact Statement. The study included “Cornell University affiliates,” but did not specifically outline the plan for the 66 units.