By Daniel Katzive
When news broke last week that the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) had issued an “adverse impact” determination on the two-story dock house planned for the 79th Street Boat Basin Marina, some neighborhood residents wondered if the proposal might be dead in the water. At the very least, it seemed as if a key source of funding for the project – Hurricane Sandy recovery money, managed by FEMA – could be in jeopardy. But at a Community Board 7 committee meeting Monday night, officials from the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) made clear that, from their perspective, at least, the project is still on track.
In a presentation to CB7’s Parks and Environment Committee, EDC officials said FEMA’s finding – that the structure could violate historic preservation rules – was simply another step in what will be a multi-stage environmental review process. The EDC officials said FEMA’s determination was a consequence of the design for the marina’s dock house shifting to a two-story structure. Earlier plans called for a one-story building; at two stories, FEMA said last week, the structure would adversely impact river views from historically significant areas, requiring additional review. The change to a two-story plan was itself a part of the lengthy approval process as it stemmed from a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ruling that the footprint of the one-story building was too large.
The development corporation officials presented an updated design for the dock house that they believe will address the historic preservation concerns raised by FEMA, in part by reducing the total square footage in the building and rotating it in order to reduce obstruction of river sight lines. According to the EDC officials, the usable square footage in the new design is the bare minimum necessary to accommodate program requirements and meet all building standards, including Americans with Disabilities Act rules.
While officials conceded that the new design would still involve some blockage of views from the park promenade, they noted that in warmer months, the dock house would be partially hidden from view from the Rotunda and Riverside Drive by the heavy tree canopy in the adjacent park. They also pointed out that, because the structure will rest on concrete stilts as required by flood sustainability requirements, views of the Boat Basin and the Hudson River will still be possible from the promenade level through the concrete legs.
In terms of next steps, FEMA is currently gathering input from stakeholders that include CB7, the Landmarks Preservation Commission, and local residents. The EDC expects that FEMA will then determine what mitigation measures will be required for the project to receive Federal funds. A separate review process by the city’s Public Design Commission will begin later this summer or early in the fall and this will require Community Board involvement as well.
Several CB7 members attending Monday’s committee meeting welcomed the changes made to the design. However, there was clearly still a great deal of discomfort with what was being proposed, and the committee unanimously approved a draft resolution opposing the current plan.
“I do think that they have made huge strides and a clear effort to try to do what we wanted,” said Barbara Adler, a Parks and Environment Committee member. “We appreciate what they have done. But it’s not really enough because in terms of the way it sits in our park, it’s an eyesore and it will always be an eyesore as long as it’s any kind of a giant structure like that.”
Fellow committee member Erana Stennett agreed. “I don’t think that this building is contextual, I don’t think it has any relationship to Riverside Park, to the water,” said Stennett. “It doesn’t fit.”
The committee’s draft resolution called on the development corporation and the city’s Parks Department to further modify the project, and the committee said it would post a Google doc on its website for the public to post comments. The draft will be discussed at the next full CB7 meeting on May 2.
Public comments can also be sent directly to FEMA at this address: DHS-FEMA Region 2, Office of Environmental Planning & Historic Preservation, 26 Federal Plaza, Suite 1802, NY, NY 10278-0002 or via email, at FEMAR2COMMENT@fema.dhs.gov for the next 15 days.
In other news relating to Riverside Park, the Committee was briefed Monday on plans to return temporary sculpture exhibits to Riverside Park South this summer for the first time since 2016. The program, run by the Parks Department in cooperation with the Art Students League, will bring two sculptures to the park at around West 61st Street by sculptors Susan Markowitz Meredith and Helen Draves. The sculptures are set to be installed in May.
Sorry if this has been asked and answered – but has it really been established that NONE of the many functions of this new dock house, from showers to toilets to laundry to I can’t recall – can be safely accommodated in the fairly extensively built “underground” and semi-underground spaces around the “Boat basin cafe” ? I know they are a few steps off the dock. And I know it is different city jurisdiction. And you still need a small elevated structure for a dock-overseer on the dock. But really, walking to a lower level entryway for the other functions, if they were nicely designed and maintained is not a hardship. Surely there is some advantage to having some of those functions on land? And I need a reminder as to who owns what in the basin and where the income goes. Will look that up. Seems a testament to “mission creep” and “design by committee “, risking a large eyesore exposed to a lot of weather if this thing gets built.
If they need a bigger structure than the current boathouse, why don’t they do one that’s a bit broader rather than two stories high so it won’t obstruct views? And why can’t there be a design that fits in better with the park and the boat basin restaurant structure just behind it?
Why not just hire a good architect
Probably because good architects and designers+engineers don’t always want to go through the NYC contractor approval process.
I imagine there are some already approved, but they’d propose an expensive nicer new boathouse, and demand the use of better contractors and materials. Then the best contractors probably don’t want anything to do getting approved to work in City projects.
I’m a graduate of Yale school of architecture.
This structure is outrageous.
The design is lazy, ugly, and an insult to the upper west side.
With all the beautiful design up the Hudson River, the city can’t find a competent design company to create something appropriate?
This is barely a medal shed with a window painted warehouse grey.
Agreed. I am working with the architects designing the Sherman Creek Community Boathouse and it is so much nicer than this! The Sherman Creek Boathouse is also four times the size of the proposed 79th Street Dockhouse, and yet it feels smaller, since it actually fits in to the surrounding landscape.
I think Sherman Creeks rendering looks as modern and out of place as the current proposed Riverside Park boathouse that is under consideration. Why can’t someone design something that looks more classically nautical? Shingles perhaps? They age well and are not terribly expensive to replace. I like the idea of a green roof, but not necessarily a flat one.
Does the Sherman Creek Boathouse now have public restrooms in the design?
Totally agree, let’s hire this gentleman
As demonstrated in the comment section of WSR, there are few things that UWSers agree on. People here like to argue, debate, and be contrarians.
The hatred of this structure has brought this neighborhood together – almost everyone dislikes the two story structure. The changes they made accomplish nothing. I don’t see why they will not listen to their constituents and do something else.
Leon, there are probably several people at the Economic Development Corporation whose entire jobs are getting this horrible building built, Never underestimate how overstaffed these departments are and how desperate their employees are to actually DO something so they can get promoted.
Yup. To twist an age old aphorism: Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There.
We so miss the boathouse cafe.. with river views…It added so much to our outdoor enjoyment of the park!!.. Please reopen it!!
Why are a boat basin and connected buildings needed at all? The neighborhood has lived without it for a couple of years now, with only positive results The view is optimally unobstructed. The boat owners have obviously moved on. What will be achieved by building unnecessary structures here? Who’s profiting from this?
Why do we need tennis courts taking up significant space on the promenade on the river? Why do we need a cafe at the Pier on 72nd Street that uses public space that makes riding bike past it problematic? Because people pay to use them and enjoy them. The owners that lived there did not voluntarily move on – they were kicked out. A boat house is a very necessary structure for a marina. Just because you don’t boat, doesn’t mean others cannot. The UWS may be the epicenter of the NIMBY culture. NYC is for everyone, learn to share.
Dear Avid Sailor: Tennis courts do not obstruct views. Neither does the Cafe. That’s why no one objects to them. I’m sure you know that. No one would object to this building if it didn’t block the view of the river. Aesthetics are important. By the way, I’m also an avid sailor 🙂
I enjoyed the outdoor art exhibits very much.
Looking forward to seeing them again ! I wish it could remain all the time. Please bring them back permanently! It would be a great way for artist to promote their works! In turn giving us park goers additional beauty to observe.
I loved it when there were more offerings! More opportunities for artists and the viewing public!
The original and amended proposals for the 79th Street Boat Basin are unacceptable and would permanently damage the neighborhood.
1. Any large fixed structure will severely negatively impact one of the crown jewels of New York City, Riverside Park.
2. This project will use public funds to build a gated facility that only rich people can use.
3. This project goes against state and federal efforts to reduce climate change. This project will encourage a massive increase in carbon fueled, nonessential pleasure boats.
4. The dredging will stir up PCBs that exist in the sediments of the Hudson River.
5. Someday FEMA (the US taxpayer) will have to repair or replace this marina. Why?
6. This whole marina is not necessary or even wanted by nearly all New Yorkers.
7. If built, the boathouse should be located as far offshore as possible, mitigating the impacts to the park users.
8. The proposed steel exterior will become a heap of ugly rust when exposed to salt spray daily. Stainless steel does rust.
9. The city and federal money wasted on this could create 100-200 units of permanent affordable housing.
For most of my life, I’ve been an UWSer. I’ve never had a boat, nor could I afford one, yet I’ve always loved that there was a marina there. I’m glad it’s being brought back.
1. Wrong. This building will not severely impact the park
2. Wrong. You don’t need to be rich to afford a small boat
3. Wrong. The project complies with all applicable climate rules and regs, and the carbon footprint will be negligible compared to the thousands of cars on the West Side Highway
4. Wrong. Dredging is already happening pursuant to the GE settlement
5. Wrong. This marina will be a profit center and will be able to fund repairs
6.Really? How do you know this?
7. Ridiculous. Marians are not built off shore.
8. Wrong. The water is not particularly salty there and the building material will be treated (the downtown firehouse is not rusted)
9.This money is not being wasted. It is replacing a 100 year old marina utilized by mostly middle class upper west siders and it and it adds color and quality to our community
Thanks for this information. Helpful.
This is a prime example of over-design and over-engineering. A total waste of funds!!! Keep the design simple and solely built what is needed.
The dockhouse, at the price reported in WSR & elsewheres, is clearly a gift to a contractor. The Parks Department really needs these funds for the basic services of upkeeping Riverside Park and repairing EXTENSIVE erosion damage to the upper and lower levels above 96th Street. Scrap this boondoggle and put taxpayer money to use where the needs exist.
ALSO it’s telling that the Marina is an EDC-run project. Just like the helicopter ports that have turned NYC’s skies into a never-ending, polluting procession of tourist flights & wealthy commuters.
Anyone with the slightest sense of proportion can see that this design is ridiculous and destined to become an instant eyesore!! Since when does EDC know more then then FEMA? This is all so offensive!!
As a person who spent much time at the Boat Basin, I can assure you that the great majority of users are not rich. Most boats were 20-30 years old. In fact, the closure displaced several low-income seniors who had been living on their boats as their only residence for decades. Gale Brewer defended “live aboards” and there are supposed to be a minimum of 30 such spots. With a bigger marina, let’s make that 50 live aboard spots and make 80% of them for lower income people. A boat you can live on, that works well enough to leave the marina in case of emergency, can be surprisingly cheap as compared to other forms of housing in New York City. Recreational sailors, power boaters, fishermen, and kayakers have not disappeared. We are waiting patiently to come back as we use more expensive and less convenient places—or have sold our boats and are waiting for the new marina.
Laura: No one is against recreational sailors. We are against an ugly building that blocks views. Don’t confuse the two.
Great points Laura
A big, ugly structure, paid for with tax dollars, mostly serving a few boat owners who should (and already do) live elsewhere. With a bit of community space and public restrooms thrown in so we all feel better about it.
How about we eliminate the whole marina? No need to make it “resilient,” no need for a dock master, no need for showers and lockers.
Please do not build this. Just a ground promenade and open docks and walkways and open water access. FEMA can pull the money out from under the city if they don’t like the design.
Why can’t money hungry bureaucrats let the Hudson River be a river…just leave it alone?
The EDC is on the wrong side of this issue, and is completely out of step with what is certainly an overwhelming majority, if not a unanimity among UWSers and those who use the park. Let us hope they come to their senses and abandon this ugly boondoggle for now, and rethink the entire project.