CPC Approves Mixed-Use Development with Community Gardens in East Harlem

Sendero Verde Rendering. Image Credit: Handle Architects.

A three-building mixed-use project will create 655 affordable housing units, 4 community gardens, an elevated public courtyard, space for Mt. Sinai medical offices and a DREAM charter school in East Harlem. On October 2, 2017, the City Planning Commission issued a favorable report on the Sendero Verde application submitted by NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (“HPD”). The application will facilitate the development of three mixed-use buildings containing 655 affordable units, commercial and community facilities, community gardens, and publicly accessible open space. The project will be developed between 112th Street to the north, 111th Street to the south, Park Avenue to the east, , and Madison Avenue to the west.

The land use application includes: (1) designating an Urban Development Action Area and an Urban Development Action Area Project for the area; (2) disposition of the property to a developer selected by HPD; (3) a zoning map amendment; (4) a zoning text amendment to establish a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing area; (5) the City acquiring a portion of the area for community garden use; (6) a special permit to modify height, setback, and yard requirements; (7) a special permit to allow commercial use above the second story in a mixed-use building; (8) a special permit to modify parking requirements; and (9) certification from the City Planning Commission to modify ground-floor use requirements.

Sendero Verde Site Plan. Image Credit: Handle Architects.

The Proposed Project

Building A is proposed to be developed on the corner of 112th Street and Madison Avenue. It will contain 365 residential units, a local supermarket, and medical office space for the Mount Sinai Medical Group. Above a three-story base, the building will set back 10 feet from the street line, and rise 37 stories.

Building B is proposed to be developed on the corner of 112th Street and Park Avenue. It will contain 211 residential units and community facility space for the DREAM charter school and a YMCA. Above a five-story base the building will set back 10 feet from the street line, and rise 15 stories.

Building C is proposed to be developed facing 111th Street in between Park and Madison Avenues. It will contain 79 residential units and community facility space for Union Settlement. Above a seven-story base, the building will rise 10 stories.

On each side of Building C, community gardens will be developed. Two community gardens will be located on the corner of 111th Street and Park Avenue, and two more on the corner of 111th Street and Madison Avenue. Building A will contain a community room and bathroom for the members of all four gardens, and another bathroom will be available for garden members along Park Avenue. All four gardens will extend toward the elevated courtyard in a “terraced fashion.”

In the center of the three buildings, an elevated public courtyard will be developed with landscaped space, including a medicinal garden and seating. The courtyard will be open to the public from 8 AM to 6 PM November 1 to April 14, and 8 AM to 8 PM from April 15 to October 31. The courtyard will also be accessional via staircase and elevator in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. These requirements regarding hours and access have been codified in a restrictive declaration.

Sendero Verde Public Courtyard Rendering. Image Credit: Handle Architects.

The Land Use Actions

 HPD seeks approval of the project, designation as an Urban Development Action Area Project, and disposition of this City-owned property.

The Zoning Map Amendment will rezone the project area from an R7-2 district with a C1-4 commercial overlay to an R9 district with a C2-5 commercial overlay. The shift from an R7-2 to an R9 allows for the development of taller buildings. In an R7-2 district, buildings may not penetrate a sky exposure plan that begins at a height of 60 feet above curb level. This encourages low-rise buildings on smaller lots and taller buildings on larger lots. R9 is a district that facilitates tower-on-a-base development. The base of the buildings must rise to a minimum of 60 feet and a maximum of 85 feet. Above the base, buildings must be set back 10 feet from wide streets and 15 feet from narrow streets. After providing the required setback, a tower may rise without height limitation. The C2-5 commercial overlay allows local retail uses, such as grocery stores, dry cleaners, drug stores, and restaurants, and has lower parking requirements than the C1-5 overlay.

The Zoning Text Amendment will establish a Mandatory Inclusionary Housing Area on the project site, utilizing the Deep Affordability Option. The Deep Affordability Option requires that no less than 20% of residential floor area be affordable to households earning an average of 40% of the Average Median Income (“AMI”).

The acquisition of a portion of the project area by the City will create recreation space and community gardens for the neighborhood. The Department of Parks and Recreation will obtain jurisdiction over the community gardens and will enter into license agreements with the gardens.

The special permit regarding height, setback, tower location, and yard requirements will facilitate a better overall site plan and relationship with the surrounding development. HPD seeks to apply the tower-on-a-base regulations to the entire development site. HPD seeks modification of the tower coverage requirements so that the towers of all buildings on the lot, in the aggregate, occupy an area comprising the requirements of less than 30% of the lot area at upper levels and more than 40% of the lot area at the lower levels. Due to the community gardens and publicly accessible space, HPD seeks to modify the street wall requirements so that the wall does not have to cover the entire street line and an area for DREAM school children to gather remains unplanted. Due to the designs of Buildings A and C, HPD requests a modification of base height requirements to allow the setback to occur at a greater height. Lastly, HPD seeks modification of the rear yard regulations to allow for some portion of the community facility space to not be developed as a school, house of worship, or hospital.

The second special permit will allow for medical office space for Mt. Sinai on the second and third floors of Building A. HPD requests a special permit to develop The third special permit will waive the parking requirements. The proposed development would require developing 129 accessory off-street parking spaces. Waiving this requirement will facilitate the development of much-needed housing units. Lastly, HPD requests CPC certification to waive the requirement of 50% ground floor commercial space in a building facing a wide street. Waiving this requirements allows for a residential lobby in Building A and the DREAM charter school in Building B.

The ULURP Process

On June 27, 2017, Manhattan Community Board 11 voted 29-5 to recommend approval with conditions. The conditions include: (1) 100% of housing units be permanently affordable; (2) a minimum 10% local hiring commitment, with a target of 35% pre-construction, 35% during construction, and 100% post-construction; (3) reducing the income band for 130% AMI from 25% of units to 20% of units, and shifting these 5% of units for households earning under 60% AMI; (4) codifying the accessibility to the public open space in perpetuity; (5) clear signage on the premises detailing the hours and availability of amenities and the public access to the open space; (6) creating a management plan before the borough president and Council vote; (7) CB 11 approval of any community partners selected, which must be from the East Harlem community; (8) compliance with ADA requirements throughout the entire project; (9) increased training and security monitoring for the project’s construction; and (10) quarterly appearances of the development team and anchor tenants before CB 11, the Manhattan Borough President, the Council, and the Department of City Planning.

On August 2, 2017, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recommended approval of the application with conditions. The conditions include: (1) deeper levels of affordability below 30% AMI and a greater percentage of units at these affordability levels; (2) a locally-based mission-driven nonprofit developer and/or a community land trust as an equity partner to ensure income-restriction on the non-permanently affordable units; (3) a timeline from the applicant detailing how restrictive covenants in the deed will be used to protect affordability and other requirements in the future; (4) development design that complements the surrounding neighborhood; (5) regular updates from HPD and the developer to CB 11; and (6) a demonstration of ways HPD and the developer will incorporate these recommendations.

On August 23, 2017, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the application. Eight people testified in support of the application, and no one testified in opposition. The speakers included four members of the applicant team—an HPD representative, the Jonathan Rose Companies (the developer), Handel Architects (the architect), Holland & Knight (land use attorneys)—representatives from Union Settlement, the Acacia Network, and DREAM charter school, as well as a parent of a DREAM charter school student.

The City Planning Commission found the application appropriate. CPC believes it will improve underutilized, vacant property by creating 655 affordable housing units, and provide important services to the neighborhood through community facilities, gardens, open space, retail space, and medical offices. All proposed housing units will be affordable for households earning between 30% and 130% AMI, with 20% of the units being permanently affordable for households earning an average of 40% AMI. For the non-permanently affordable units, the affordability will remain in place for 40 to 60 years.

CPC: Sendero Verde – East 111th Street (C170363HAM; C170361ZMM; N170362ZRM; C170364PQM; C170365ZSM; C170366ZSM; C170367ZSM)

By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)

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