Friday, October 27, 2006

City Modifies Harlem Project To Include More ‘Affordable' Units

The New York Sun
New York

City Modifies Harlem Project To Include More ‘Affordable' Units
By DAVID LOMBINOStaff Reporter of the Sun
October 24, 2006

The city is modifying a real estate proposal in East Harlem, a few months after community opposition killed a $1 billion deal to redevelop about two city blocks with apartments, offices, stores, and a parking lot.

The city's plan, called Uptown New York, was first launched in 1999 as a retail project. It evolved over time, along with the fortunes of Harlem real estate, to encompass about 2 million square feet of development and four apartment towers on six acres between 125th and 127th Streets and Third and Second Avenues.

Complaints from the local community about the size and makeup of the proposal, voiced by Community Board 11, the local city council member, Melissa Mark-Viverito, and the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, caused the city to pull the plug in May on a deal with a developer, Urban Strategic Partners.

Yesterday, the city's Economic Development Corporation reissued a request for proposals to buy and develop the site that caps the number of apartments at 1,000 in a maximum of two towers. Before, about 80% of 1,500 planned apartments would be market rate, but now the city is mandating that all the apartments constitute "affordable" housing, with 50% as rentals and 50% for purchase. Those who already live in the area of Community Board 11 will be given "preferential treatment" for half of the apartments.

In addition, a percentage of the retail space would be reserved for local businesses, there would be space reserved for local non-profit and cultural organizations, and the local community will also have a say in selecting the developer, although city officials stopped short of calling it a veto. Ms. Viverito, Mr. Stringer, and the community board now support the plan.

The president of the EDC, Joshua Sirefman, said that he is optimistic that the project remains commercially viable after the recent changes. He said that fact that local leaders are on board is "a huge bonus for developers."

"We heard loud and clear from the community, and we felt strongly the need to work with them to find the best use of site," Mr. Sirefman said. "It's increasingly a model that Bloomberg administration has followed."

A lingering critique of the Bloomberg administration's development strategy is its preference for large development projects and its lack of regard for "community-based development."

In Brooklyn, neighbors of the proposed Atlantic Yards project — vastly bigger at about 8.7 million square feet — have complained the city has not addressed community concerns. That project is being guided through the review process by a state agency.

The director of land use in the office of Manhattan borough president, Anthony Borelli, said in the case of Uptown New York, the administration backed away from a fight.

"I think the city actually saw that it would probably be more productive and less adversarial if they started from scratch, rather than push it through with a lot of community opposition," Mr. Borelli said.

The city currently owns 81% of the site is seeking to acquire the rest of it, but it may need to rely on condemnation through eminent domain. Currently, the site houses several parking lots, including a bus parking lot belonging to the MTA, which will be replaced with an underground facility.

A Harlem developer, David Blumenfeld, said that he would submit a bid for the city's new proposal. He said that he expected a lot of interest from developers, who are still bullish on the Harlem real estate market, but he said that condemnation presents a challenge.

"With all the lawsuits brought recently regarding condemnation, and concerns of using condemnation for private development, that makes it a difficult site," he said. Bids are due in January and construction could begin in 2008.

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