Wheel Downsized, But Other Xanadu Buildings Will Tower

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 Copyright 2007 South Bergenite Online, southbergenite.com

By Corey Klein

A mammoth Ferris Wheel and Roller Coaster planned for the Meadowlands Xanadu project will be smaller than planned, in order to address a study by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The 321-foot Ferris Wheel and the 289-foot roller coaster would exceed "obstruction standards and/or would have an adverse physical or electromagnetic interference effect upon navigable airspace or air navigation facilities," according to FAA documents.

The FAA recommended the Ferris Wheel to be dropped to 190 feet above the ground and the roller coaster dropped to 185 feet above the ground.

However, the FAA determined three other Xanadu buildings would not be a hazard. Those three buildings will be 226, 254 and 262 feet high. Lane Biviano, a resident and attorney in Rutherford, petitioned the FAA to review these building heights. Biviano believes the heights are should not be acceptable if the other structures need to be reduced to below 200 feet.

Xanadu developer Colony Capital will comply with the FAA standards, according to spokesman Tim White, though it has no legal obligation to. "The FAA has no authority to require the developer to make the Ferris Wheel lower," according to Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a group concerned with the safety of pilots and passengers.

Colony Capital has not decided on a new height for the two structures, but when they do, they will need to have the proposed heights approved by the FAA before they move forward, read the FAA documents.

Dancy said while developers do not have an obligation to comply with FAA regulations, there are few cases when they do not. The FAA has sway over the decisions of governmental authorities that regulate height restrictions, because it is often in the interest of local governments to comply with the FAA to avoid potential problems, he added.

In San Diego, CA, a developer called Sunroad Enterprises built a high rise apartment building 20-feet higher than FAA standards within one mile of an airport. The developers did not ask the FAA to conduct a hazard study, but a study conducted later revealed the building was too high. The city, which approved the permits to build the high rise, asked the developer to knock 20 feet off of the top of the completed building, resulting in a legal standstill between the city and the developer.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority governs height restrictions on the property where the Xanadu sports and entertainment complex sits. The proactive approach Colony Capital took when it requested a hazard study from the FAA suggests that Xanadu wants to avoid a similar mess to the one experienced by the San Diego develops. "It appears that the Xanadu developers do want to do the right thing," said Dancy.

Lane Biviano, a resident and attorney in Rutherford, was not satisfied with Colony Capitals promise to make the amusements smaller. "The reduced height of the Ferris Wheel will be the same height as the ski slope," said Biviano.

Biviano owns a condo overlooking the Manhattan ski line and believes, after speaking with a NJSEA engineer, that the structures will block his view of the city. He believes a public hearing should be held before any more large structures are built at the sports complex because it is public land. "You’re going to see just the tops of the buildings [in New York City]. That’s not acceptable," said Biviano. "They’re trying to create Great Adventure in the Meadowlands as if we were desperate for people to come to the doorstep of Manhattan."

He has not been able to find any plans for the Ferris Wheel and roller coaster, other than the "vague" plans outlined in the 2004 Xanadu Master Plan. Colony Capital representatives brought their plans with them to a NJSEA meeting and took them home when they left, leaving no public record of specifics on the amusements.

Biviano also fears that the Ferris Wheel could have glaring lights that would affect the quality of life of South Bergen residents and wants all of the specifics to be out in the open. "Let the public comment on it," he said. "What do they have to hide?"

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