New plan for East Harlem remains controversial

Six-acre site in East Harlem proposed for development. Image courtesy of the New York City Economic Development Corp.

Community and Stringer criticize EDC for initiating land use process before selecting developer. On July 23, 2008, the City Planning Commission heard testimony on a plan to redevelop a six-acre site in East Harlem roughly bounded by East 125th and East 127th Streets between Second and Third Avenues. The plan before the Commission resulted from a controversial RFP process shepherded by the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

EDC first released an RFP for the site in 1999, awarding Urban Strategic Partners LLC the right to develop its “Uptown New York” plan, a proposal that included 700,000 sq. ft. of retail and commercial space along with four towers containing 1.5 million sq.ft. of residential space. The community strongly opposed the proposal for its lack of affordable housing and its failure to adequately consider the local culture. Community Board 11, Borough President Scott Stringer, and Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito formed a task force to oppose the plan and to propose a new one that, in its view, would better fit the community’s needs. EDC subsequently withdrew the proposal and released a new RFP shaped by suggestions from the task force. The new RFP called for a 1.7 million sq. ft. development including up to 1,000 units of housing along with a national retail anchor, restaurants, cinemas, nightclubs, a hotel, and not-for-profit space. 3 CityLand 159 (Nov. 15, 2006).

With the 2006 RFP process narrowed down to three finalists but not completed, EDC initiated the land use approval process. But instead of EDC filing the application on behalf of the project, the Department of Housing Preservation and Development filed the application, listing itself as lead agency. HPD’s three linked applications before the Planning Commission sought to rezone the six-acre site, amend the urban renewal plan, and gain property tax exemptions through designation as an Urban Development Action Area Project.

At the Planning Commission’s public hearing, EDC fielded the Commissioners’ questions on the details of the final project and when it planned to choose a developer. EDC’s staff stated that the final project would match the “intent” of the RFP, and that they had set a tentative deadline of early September to choose a developer, which the staff noted, would occur before the City Council’s vote on the ULURP actions.

Anthony Borelli, Land Use Director for Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, voiced his disapproval of EDC’s decision to initiate the land use process before selecting a developer. He believed it would be “almost impossible” for Community Board 11, Stringer, and even the Planning Commission to offer informed, meaningful comments since they will have lost their opportunity to review the final project before their ULURP deadline expired. A representative from Community Board 11 agreed, stating that EDC’s decision was a “form of disrespect” and deprived the community of its chance to review and comment on the final project. Others who spoke, including Council Member Mark-Viverito, who favored the project, were “confident” that EDC would choose a developer before the Council votes in October.

Borelli, Stringer’s spokesman, also suggested that, given EDC’s substantial involvement, EDC be named the lead agency instead of HPD, adding that he failed to understand why HPD was the applicant. Borelli explained that, were EDC the lead, it would trigger section 384(b)(4) of the City Charter and subject the final project’s financials to review and approval by the Manhattan Borough Board.

The Commission has until September 2, 2008 to vote on the proposal.

CPC: Hearing on East 125th Street Development (C 080333 ZMM – rezoning) (C 080332 HAM – UDAAP) (C 080332 HUM – amend URP) (July 23, 2008).


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