Fate of "last" gas station on Upper West Side pondered
"It’s a strange block," remarked one of the members of the land use committee of Community Board 7 last night, referred to the 96th Street block between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive.
The broad street slopes downward sharply to the west from West End Avenue and then climbs upward at it gets closer to Riverside Drive and a major entrance to the West Side Highway. The great building on the northeast corner of Riverside Drive and 96th Street is aptly named the "Cliff" and it has wonderful façade decorations of the American West.
The bottom, or middle, of this block, has been used for automotive services for many years and recently one of them, the farthest to the west, was redeveloped with a large apartment building.
Now the second automotive service facility on the block at 303-311 Wests 96th Street is considering a "residential/neighborhood retail redevelopment" and the presentation to the committee last night threw some of the committee members in a loop, or tizzy.
Earlier in the evening, they had at great length discussed expansion plans for Fordham University near Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and many members expressed concerns about its proposed addition of almost 550 more parking space on the small campus.
The site in question is on the north side of 96th Street and the next item on the committee’s agenda last night was the downzoning of the neighborhood above 96th Street. Richard Asche, the chairman of the committee, told James Heineman of the envirnonmental planning firm of Lemonides Heineman Associates, which was representing the owner of the garage, Martin Eagle, who was in attendance at the meeting, that a major upzoning was doubtful. DID Architects had plans for the site that called for a 20-story building with about 75 apartments, but apparently no decision has yet been made whether they will be rentals or condos.
A spokesperson for DID Architects said that Mr. Eagle had wanted to retain the gas station and garage and expand it slightly but that the city’s Department of City Planning had suggested he should go for a zoning change.
Tom Vitullo-Martin, a member of the committee, said that "if any area can sustain greater density" it was this block, adding that "it always looked odd, looked wasted."
"This will eliminate the only gas station above 59th Street on the Upper West Side," remarked one committee member, to which Lenore Norman, another committee member, responded that "a garage would be a detriment to people on the block and bad for property values."
Mr. Asche remarked that both arguments have merit, adding, however, that the city was getting to the point where "all service areas are given up," leading another committee member to say "Maybe we’re on the road to oblivion...of all garages."
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