Wednesday, March 20, 2013

NYC Planning Commission Approves Roosevelt Island Cornell Tech Applied Sciences Project Today - Concerns Expressed Over Barging and Traffic Mitigation During Construction - On To NY City Council For Further Review

Following conditional approvals by Manhattan Community Board 8 (December 19, 2012) and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer (January 24,2013), the New York City Planning Commission today approved the Cornell ULURP application for its proposed Roosevelt Island campus.

NYC Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden announced during today's meeting:

... I enthusiastically vote yes on the proposal as modified....
and that the Cornell Technion project is:
... pivotal for furthering NY's growing technological sector by increasing interaction between the academic community and local businesses ... this project will create new publicly accessible open space and facilitate improvements on Roosevelt island...
Ms. Burden also noted modifications to Cornell's application that were suggested by Roosevelt Island Community Coalition (RICC) members including:
  • insuring esplanade around the campus continues to be accessible 24 hours,
  • insuring public accessible space open until 10 PM year round,
  • cafes open to the public,
  • insuring open space is being provided in sufficient amounts and configurations,
  • modification of bulk regulation only by Special Permit and
  • disposition of city owned property should be restricted to uses more closely associated with Cornell Technion proposal.
Several NYC Planning Commissioners expressed concern over the burdensome traffic impact the project will bring to Roosevelt Island's only street - and were particularly concerned that Cornell might not utilize barges during the construction process nor contribute to the added costs imposed on Roosevelt Island residents and the Roosevelt Island Operating Corp (RIOC) by the increased services anticipated for the Cornell campus. According to Commissioner Michelle de la Luz who cast the lone no vote:
... a few details... remain to be finalized to insure the projects vast benefits don't come at the expense of the Island residents and can be more formally linked to work force development opportunities so that NYC residents with limited career prospects can also benefit from this transformative project...
Here's an excerpt from today's NYC Planning Commission meeting.

Following today's NYC Planning Commission meeting, I received the following statement from Cornell NYC Tech's Director of Capital Projects and Planning Andrew Winters reiterating Cornell's position on barging and temporary cement batch plant. According to Mr. Winters:
BARGING: Cornell is actively exploring the feasibility of utilizing barging techniques to help limit construction traffic on to the Island. We are considering two barging techniques: a floating harbor barge for bulk materials and a fixed platform for driving trucks directly from barges to the site. The use of barges in the construction process will require approvals and permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) and the US Army Corps of Engineers. As part of this investigation, we have been meeting with NYSDEC to discuss regulations regarding temporary installations and to determine pre-application procedures for expedited review. NYSDEC has requested a series of studies, including water depth, sea-wall conditions, and preliminary engineering, which we have initiated. In addition to working with the regulatory agencies, engineers, and others, in the Final Environmental Impact Statement we have included an assessment of the environmental consequences of barging as an alternative construction measure to make sure that all effects have been fully considered in the event that barging proves to be feasible.

CEMENT: We do not believe that hosting a batch plant on site is the most effective way to limit impacts of construction and have a number of specific concerns about the feasibility of a batch plant for this project. The volume of concrete that we're going to be using, particularly in the first phase, is very small. Two of the first four buildings will be steel frame buildings, limiting the total amount of concrete construction to 400,000 square feet at a maximum. We've researched other projects in the City and found that even on dramatically larger projects, including the World Trade Center and Hudson Yards, construction managers have found the challenges of using a batch plant overwhelming and have chosen not to use them. Finally, DEC has noted additional concerns, including the possibility of runoff due to the site's proximity to the edge of the island, which is only 800 feet wide at its widest. Though we are still looking at it, the feedback we've gotten is that the combination of the volume, the industrial issues and the cost, make it an extremely challenging route for this project.
Below is Cornell Press Release on today's NYC Planning Commission approval:
The City Planning Commission today approved Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island Campus plan as part of the City’s public land use review process. The plan now continues to the final stage in the process with review by the City Council.

The Roosevelt Island campus will sit on a 12-acre site, with groundbreaking planned for early 2014, campus opening expected in 2017 and full build out in 2037. In January, Cornell Tech welcomed its first “beta” class of Master of Engineering students in computer science. The program is being housed at Cornell Tech’s temporary campus location in Chelsea, in space donated by Google.

“We are grateful to Chair Burden and the City Planning Commission for engaging in such a thorough analysis of the campus plan and ultimately offering their full support,” said Cornell Tech Vice President Cathy Dove. “At each step in this review process we have gained valuable insight and been able to improve our plan, and we look forward to continuing that dialogue with the City Council.”

“With the first students and faculty on our current campus in Chelsea, we’re building the new academic model that the campus on Roosevelt Island will support and encourage,” said Cornell Tech Dean Dan Huttenlocher. “We are grateful for the support of the City and the entire tech community as we move forward with the goal of spurring innovation and supporting economic growth in New York and beyond.”

Approval by the City Planning Commission is another major milestone for the campus. Cornell Tech welcomed its first students in January and is rapidly rolling out new academic programs, recruiting star faculty, developing a distinctive new model of tech entrepreneurship, and designing its permanent campus on Roosevelt Island.

Cornell Tech is offering a distinctive model of graduate tech education that fuses educational excellence with real-world commercial applications and entrepreneurship, rooted in the latest academic research. Students, faculty and industry experts are learning and working together to launch ideas and create new ventures that have global impact. The campus is attracting the best and brightest in technology, immersing them in an entrepreneurial culture with deep ties to the local business community intended to spur the creation of new companies and new industries in New York City.

The Roosevelt Island plan reflects Cornell Tech’s commitment to innovation not only in the academic program for the campus but also in its physical development. The new campus will include up to 2.1 million square feet of development, housing approximately 2,000 full-time graduate students, by full build-out in 2037. The first phase will include up to 790,000 square feet of development, including the first academic building and reflecting all of the uses that will be in place at full build-out.
and video of full NYC Planning Commission meeting earlier today.

Next stop is NY City Council.

UPDATE 3/21 - According to a NYC Planning Commission Spokesperson:
The Commission heard testimony from RICC and from the Community Board about the applicants’ construction plan, and the project’s overall impact on Roosevelt Island’s
infrastructure costs and financial responsibilities.

With respect to construction, the Commission believes that the barging of materials to the construction site may be an effective way to alleviate the amount of truck trips that would otherwise be required to travel through the existing Roosevelt Island community and encourages the applicant to give careful consideration to this alternative as it further develops its construction plans. The Commission notes that the applicant agreed to further study this option in its letter to the Commission dated February 15, 2013.
Roosevelt Island resident Jonathan Kalkin adds:
As Co-Chair of RICC, I am very proud of what our board and the coalition has accomplished in a very short period of time. It has been a pleasure and an honor to work with this team and see so many people work into the night reviewing EIS documents and writing/testifying on behalf of this community. Throughout this process, CB8, our Borough President and now the City Planning Commission have echoed our thoughts and concerns. The Coalition has always been in favor of the Cornell NYC Tech project and we believe that the success of the University and the success of this community is dependent on the University's commitment to Roosevelt Island. We look forward to working with Cornell and testifying on behalf of the community to the New York City Council.


Janet Falk said...

Congratulations to the members of the RICC, the residents who contributed to the review of the documentation and the neighbors who attended and spoke at the hearing. The Commissioners paid attention to Roosevelt Islanders and incorporated your remarks into their consideration of the project.

CheshireKitty said...

I hope Cornell uses barging. We should continue to insist on this.