Community facility will provide on-site social services and improved access to need-based financial benefits. On August 13, 2015, the City Council adopted a resolution to rehabilitate a vacant firehouse and convert it into a community facility. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development submitted the Urban Development Action Area Project proposal to the City Planning Commission on March 31, 2015. The four-story firehouse is located at 269 Henry Street in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan and has not been used since 2002.
The resolution provides for Henry Street Settlement to use the new facility as its one-stop-shop for community residents seeking on-site services, including “crisis intervention, financial counseling, legal services,” and enhanced access to financial assistance programs. Henry Street Settlement, a 122-year-old social services organization, works closely with Manhattan Community Board 3 in operating its facilities. Henry Street’s pre-existing headquarters is located within 50 feet of the former firehouse.
The Commission held the public hearing on HPD’s UDAAP application on June 17, 2015. Veanda Simmons, deputy director of Manhattan planning at HPD, testified that the Lower East Side community is fully supportive of the proposed use as Henry Street Settlement’s “neighborhood resource center.”
Jeremy Reiss, deputy development officer of public policy and external relations at Henry Street, testified that Henry Street plans to use the new facility to offer services currently provided at a separate location on East Broadway. Mr. Reiss noted that unlike the current East Broadway location, the rehabilitated firehouse will be ADA-certified, allowing the new location to serve as the “main in-point center” where community residents can receive on-site assistance and be referred out for other services that may not be offered at this specific location. Renee Epps, chief officer for facilities and operations at Henry Street, testified that the firehouse location will be about 1,500 square-feet larger than the organization’s East Broadway location, allowing for a flexible, multi-functional event space for both Henry Street and the community at large to utilize.
Commission member Cheryl Cohen Effron acknowledged the Lower East Side’s recent growth as a tourist destination. In consideration of this point, Ms. Effron inquired into whether the proposed rehabilitation includes plans to post signs explaining the firehouse’s history for passersby, recognizing the many cultural institutions that could help to create these historical aspects. Ms. Epps testified to the planned rehabilitation’s inclusion of some original interior aspects of the building. Ms. Epps further commented on Henry Street’s interest in adding historical interpretations into its headquarters and the new location, noting Henry Street’s ongoing partnership with numerous cultural institutions that could help with these additions to the facilities.
Commission member Bomee Jung’s questions focused on the sustainability aspects of the project. Emma Leonard, Architectural Designer at Beyer Blinder Belle, testified that the proposed plan included replacing the current windows with more efficient windows, which would make a significant impact on the building’s overall sustainability, but could not provide comment on other sustainability-enhancing ideas, as the project was still in its early developmental stages.
In 2006, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services submitted a Uniform Land Use Review Procedure application to the Commission, which proposed to sell the subject premises to a private developer. However, both Community Board 3 and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer joined together in voicing an avid desire to see the facility used to meet community needs. Upon their recommendation, DCAS withdrew its ULURP application. Subsequently, Community Board 3 and Borough President Brewer championed the now-adopted resolution, which received the Commission’s grant of approval on July 15, 2015. On August 19, 2015, the UDAAP process concluded with the project’s formal grant of approval.
CPC: 269 Henry Street (150317–HAM) (Aug. 13, 2015).
By: Jessica Soultanian-Braunstein (Jessica is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School graduate, Class of 2015)