City Planning Approves Modified Plans for Redevelopment of Harlem Church

Rendering of Proposed La Hermosa Building with Modifications/Image Credit: Department of City Planning/CPC

The proposed building would house the redeveloped La Hermosa Church, community facilities, and residential units. On October 15, 2019, the City Planning Commission voted to approve an application to develop a new 29-story tower-on-a-base mixed-use building at 5 West 110th Street in Harlem, Manhattan. The site is currently occupied by La Hermosa Church, a three-story brick throughway building, and the church’s parking lot. To facilitate the new 226,000 square feet development, the applicants would propose to demolish the existing church building. The project would redevelop La Hermosa Church and build a music hall, music school, and approximately 160 housing units. The Church is the project applicant and site owner.

Current La Hermosa Church building, fronting West 110th Street/Image Credit: Google Maps

The front of the building faces West 110th Street. West 110th Street is predominately characterized by five- and six-story brick residential buildings. Bethel Christian Temple Church, a three-story brick building, is located to the west of building’s frontage. The east side of the building faces the church parking lot, which sits on the corner of Duke Ellington Circle and Fifth Avenue to the east of the church building. Schomburg Plaza, a development with two 34-story residential towers, is located past the parking lot on the other side Fifth Avenue. The rear of the building faces West 111th Street and is in between 2 West 111th Street, a six-story mixed-used building to the east and 8 West 111th Street, five-story residential building to the west.

To facilitate the project, the applicant proposes to rezone the site from a residential zoning that allows five- to six-story buildings to a commercial zoning that allows “tower-on-a-base” residential buildings that rise to 34 stories and has a maximum floor area ratio that would accommodate the proposed community facilities. The rezoning would also affect Bethel Church, 2 West 111th Street, and a couple of buildings along West 110th and West 111th Streets. However, there are currently no future plans to redevelop these buildings.

The applicant also proposes a special permit to waive parking requirements due to the site’s public transit accessibility and the lack of use of the parking lot. The project would also be designated as a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing area to support the project’s proposed affordable housing.

Initially, the applicant proposed to build a 33-story tower-on-a-base glass building with three setbacks leading up to a maximum height of 398 feet. The setbacks created a “step down” effect from the east side of the building to the west side of the building. The base was four-stories tall and only housed the church and community facilities.

Initial La Hermosa Proposal/Image Credit: FX Collaborative/CPC

On June 5, 2019, Manhattan Community Board 10 voted to decline the application because there were concerns with the lack of details relative to the project. Concerns include the project’s large scale, costs, income targets, and who it was intended to serve. The Board also had concerns with the project’s lack of a developer.

On August 23, 2019, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer disapproved the application. She shared Community Board 10’s concerns of the proposal’s lack of detail and believes the project does not produce enough affordable units relative to its size since only 50 of the 160 units are affordable.

On August 28 and September 23, 2019, the City Planning Commission held two hearings on the application.

At the August 28 City Planning hearing, Jennifer Dickson of Herrick Feinstein, Daniel Kaplan of FX Collaborative, and Pastor Daniel Feliciano of La Hermosa Church presented the initial application. Gloria Feliciano, Pastor Feliciano’s wife, testified in support of the project.

In the presentation, Pastor Feliciano stated that La Hermosa, a Christian Church Disciples of Christ church, has been operating since 1960 and over time, the building has deteriorated. He explains that the applicants are seeking redevelopment to ensure the church remains in the community.

Commissioner Anna Hayes Levin had concerns about how the proposed project would relate to the rest of the area, stating that there is a “striking integrity” with the surrounding buildings. She noted that the applicant should better complement Duke Ellington Circle’s streetscape.

Commissioner David J. Burney asked about the building’s setbacks and noted that the design results in an “abrupt vertical” on the Fifth Avenue side. Kaplan explained that the “step down” effect of the setbacks was to make a “scale transition towards the midblock” of Central Park North and felt the height on Fifth Avenue would complement Schomburg Plaza.

Commissioner Levin asked Gloria Feliciano why the applicant did not have a developer and noted a project’s risk without one. Feliciano explained that working with a developer from the start would not allow the Church to have full control over their plans because when other churches in the area worked with developers, the churches would not get the plan they wanted. However, Feliciano stated that there is now a developer selection process in place for the project.

In response to Commissioner Orlando Marín’s suggestion to make all housing units affordable, Feliciano explained that market rate housing would provide the Church with capital to upkeep the building.

On September 23, 2019, City Planning held a special review session where the Commission went over modifications to the proposal and addressed concerns that came up throughout the public review process. Anna White of the Department of City Planning explained that the modifications decreased the building from 33-stories to 29-stories with two setbacks leading to a maximum height of 339 feet, decreasing the overall height by 60 feet. The base’s height is now increased from four stories to seven-stories at a height of 85 feet and would now house the church, community facilities, and three floors of residential units. The residential tower’s height is now shorter than originally proposed and its glass façade is curved to complement Duke Ellington Circle.

Both Chair Marisa Lago and Commissioner Richard W. Eaddy noted that the new plans were an improvement from the original.

The application was approved by the Commission on October 15, with Commissioner Levin abstaining.

The City Council will hold a public hearing for this application at a later date.


By: May Vutrapongvatana (May is the CityLaw Fellow and New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2019).



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