Rezoning Approved for Central Harlem Project

Map of Approved Central Harlem Rezoning. Image Credit: CPC.

Map of Approved Central Harlem Rezoning. Image Credit: CPC.

Rezoning approved for project that will restore historic church building and provide thirty percent affordable housing to Harlem residents. On June 17, 2014, the City Council Land Use Subcommittee for Zoning and Franchises heard an application submitted by 117th Street Equities, LLC (Artimus) for a zoning map amendment to facilitate a mixed-use development in Central Harlem, Manhattan. The map amendment would rezone an existing R7A to an R8A zoning district on a block bounded by West 117th and West 118th streets, St. Nicholas Avenue and Fredrick Douglass Boulevard. The development is comprised of four buildings that consist of approximately 151 dwelling units and 12,201 square feet of community facility use.

Artimus plans to convert a vacant St. Thomas Church building, located on West 118th street, into a community space while preserving the historic church’s facade and some of the remaining interior. The community space will be used as an arts center where local Harlem-based organizations can develop and showcase local talent. Artimus plans to add floors and turn St. Thomas school on Saint Nicholas Avenue into a 10-story building with 73 dwelling units. Artimus also plans to develop a vacant lot on West 117th Street into a 12-story building with 74 units of apartment housing. 20% of the new construction housing units will be affordable at 60% of AMI and 10% will be affordable at 165% of AMI. The proposed rezoning would allow for a maximum residential FAR of 6.02 and a maximum community facility FAR of 6.5, and a maximum street wall and building height of 85 feet and 120 feet. The zoning change would also allow for the existing non-compliant buildings located in the area to become compliant.

On February 5, 2014, Manhattan Community Board 10 held a public hearing and voted 21-8 with two abstentions to support the application. On March 28, 2014, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer recommended approval of the application with several conditions. The Borough President asked the applicant work to make sure the community facility served community arts, and featured affordable rent rates for non-profit groups. In addition, the Borough President asked that the former St. Thomas the Apostle Church be preserved and remain on the site as a community facility.

On April 2, 2014, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the application. Counsel for the applicant reiterated the 20% of new affordable housing and discussed the level of community outreach that was conducted. She also stated that they were in contact with the Department of Cultural Affairs to serve as a resource for creating the community facility space. On May 21, 2014 the City Planning Commission adopted the application.

Local City Council Member Inez Dickens was not present at the June 17 hearing, but supported the project through written testimony that was read into the record. In her testimony, Council Member Dickens highlighted the importance of preserving the historic St. Thomas Church building while offering it as a space for community groups to hold events. Dickens commended Artimus for not tearing down St. Thomas as of right since it is not a designated individual landmark. Council Member Dickens also highlighted that after the City Planning vote, Artimus worked with her to increase the affordability from twenty to thirty percent. Artimus has now agreed to provide housing for ten percent of the units to households that make one hundred sixty five percent AMI. The Council Member was satisfied with the project and believes strongly in creating as much affordable housing for her district as possible.

Council Member Jumaane Williams questioned the AMI model that would be used. Council Member Williams was concerned that although the project would provide affordable housing for twenty percent of the units to households that make between forty and sixty percent AMI and provide housing for ten percent of the units to households that make one hundred sixty five percent AMI, this model would still not be affordable to members of the community. Artimus responded by stating that their goal was to provide affordability to a broad range of incomes and the one hundred sixty five percent AMI units were meant to help middle class households while the forty to sixty percent AMI was meant to assist lower income households.

Council Member Laurie Cumbo asked if the different cultural organizations were economically prepared to move forward with holding events at the space and wanted to know in what ways this project would assist the organizations. Artimus stated that they have met with almost all of the groups interested and they are currently searching for an operator for the space to assist in booking times for the groups to hold their events. Artimus restated their commitment to providing affordable space to local Harlem groups. On June 19, 2014, both the Subcommittee and the full Committee on Land Use approved the application. The full City Council approved the application on Thursday, June 26, 2014.

City Council: West 117th Street Rezoning (C 140070 ZMM- Zoning Map Amendment) (June 17, 2014).

By: Jonathan Manfre (Jonathan is a CityLaw Summer Associate and a Student at New York Law School, Class of 2015).

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