Electeds rip planned development


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Private Yorkville project, part of NYCHA's “NextGeneration” initiative, to be built on public land


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  • Rendering of a 47-story tower planned for adjacent to Holmes Towers, off East 92nd Street. Courtesy of NYCHA



A private development planned for public housing land in Yorkville came under blistering attack from a gathering of elected officials and residents Tuesday, mostly, they said, because the affordable apartments in the proposed 47-story tower would be too expensive.

Several also said that the money derived from the city Housing Authority's partnership with New York City-based Fetner Properties — $25 million in exchange for a 99-year lease — was insufficient, particularly as the public housing towers nearby fall into disrepair and as the agency confront capital needs of $17 billion.

“This is not a project, it's a scandal,” U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney said following the afternoon rally, held next to Holmes Towers' playground, off East 92nd Street near York Avenue, on which the development is to be built. “If you're taking NYCHA land, it should be affordable.”

The project's 172 affordable apartments — half of those planned for the tower — would be available to city residents making up to 60 percent of area median income, which, according to the city's Housing Development Corp., is $40,080 for one person and $57,240 for a family of four. Although a Fetner spokesman said the building would have housing set aside for individuals and families making 30, 40 and 50 percent of area median income, a NYCHA spokeswoman said “specific AMI levels” are still being determined. “The NYCHA team is striving to achieve as low a level as possible,” she said in an email response to questions.

Current NYCHA residents will have a preference for 25 percent of the affordable housing.

Although NYCHA officials said they held 23 meetings with residents in leading up to last month's announcement that Fetner would develop the site, Maloney and others who gathered Tuesday said they were still awaiting details about the proposal. She and Council Member Ben Kallos sent a joint letter to NYCHA's chairperson and CEO, Shola Olatoye, just ahead of the meeting requesting answers to numerous questions about the project.

Maloney said she would introduce legislation in the House of Representatives that, if passed, would require that only affordable housing be built on public housing land. (NYCHA today released a request for proposals to design, finance, build and operate new construction of 100 percent affordable apartments at four NYCHA developments — 200 to 250 apartments at Harborview Terrace on West 55th Street, as well as at sites in Brooklyn and the Bronx.)

Borough President Gale Brewer and others said it was unthinkable that the project was not submitted to the city's Uniform Land Use Review Process, which would involve appraisal by city planners and commissioners, Community Board 8, the City Council and the mayor's office.

Brewer said NYCHA would be deriving “too little money” from its arrangement with Fetner. “This is public land and it is very, very precious,” she said. “Manhattan should not be the cash cow for NYCHA.”

Although Maloney said city officials were “wedded” to the project, Kallos said residents and elected officials would continue to oppose it.

“I don't think the NYCHA residents should be trapped in the shadows of the wealthy,” Kallos said at the rally, at which state Senator Liz Krueger and Assembly Member Dan Quart, who prior to redistricting represented Holmes Towers, also spoke.

The development would loom over Holmes Towers' two 25-story buildings. While NYCHA said the new development would be built on “underutilized land,” a major point of contention is that it would be built on the footprint of the children's playground, in between the Holmes Towers buildings.

“This is the wrong place to build it,” Kallos said, adding that Fetner would not pay taxes on the development.

FIRST PROJECT OF A 10-YEAR STRATEGIC PLAN

The project is part of the city Housing Authority's “NextGeneration” program, begun two years ago to help the agency generate funds and close endemic and significant budget deficits. The development would be the program's first. In rolling out NextGen, the agency estimated the program would raise $300 million to $600 million over 10 years, revenue that will be split between existing repair needs at NextGen sites like Holmes and NYCHA's larger capital projects citywide.

The development will include an 18,000-square-foot recreational and community center administered by Asphalt Green. A rooftop turf field will also be built.

The community center, including a basketball court, will be located nearby the nonprofit's current 5.5-acre campus, off York Avenue between 90th and 92nd Streets.

“NextGeneration Neighborhoods enables NYCHA to raise critically needed funds, improve residents' quality of life and provide new affordable housing,” Olatoye, the NYCHA CEO, said in a press release late last month announcing Fetner as the developer. “This project will fund badly needed repairs, and we will provide resources and amenities such as new playgrounds, a large community center and job opportunities.”

NYCHA officials said revenue from the program will become even more critical if budget cuts to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed by the Trump administration are enacted. They estimate those cuts would slash 68 percent from NYCHA's capital budget and 13 percent from its operating budget.

Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Maria Torres-Springer said the development will provide affordable housing, job opportunities for residents, and “much-needed” revenue. “I'm grateful to the community leaders, local residents, and all of our partners for collaborating to find innovative solutions to our city's housing crisis,” she said in the release. Torres-Springer said the project “reflects many months of extensive community engagement.”

But Lakeesha Taylor, a longtime Holmes Towers tenant, called those efforts “a sham.”

Speaking a few days before Tuesday's rally, she said the authority deceived residents by first telling them they would have a say in whether a development would even be built nearby. That option was soon scrapped, Taylor said, and residents were then surveyed about the type of construction they would like.

“There was never a choice,” Taylor, 43, who has lived at Holmes for most of her life. “It made it seem you had a choice. It was always a marketing scheme. It was a big white pill.”

Taylor estimated that most Holmes residents are opposed to the project.

The neighborhood, she said, is already packed. “Why do we need a building here? This area is over-congested as is. Why here? It doesn't make sense,” she said.

Fetner was chosen in part because of the company's “commitment to community-focused features in its proposal,” particularly playgrounds, open space and the recreational and community center, according to NYCHA.

Fetner's president and CEO, Hal Fetner, and his wife, Nina Fetner, who live in Westchester County, each contributed $4,950 to Mayor Bill de Blasio's 2017 reelection fund in December 2015, the maximum allowed by law.



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