CB8 seeks answers on Holmes Towers project

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Community board raises housing, zoning and environmental concerns with private development to built on NYCHA land


  • A rendering of the 50-story residential building to be built between the two 25-story towers of NYCHA’s Holmes Towers public housing development. Image courtesy of NYCHA

“The community is concerned that the deal for this development is far less than market value estimates, which is exacerbated by the developer receiving subsidies and tax benefits.”

Community Board 8 letter regarding NYCHA’s deal with Fetner Properties

The Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 hopes a public hearing next month will bring additional scrutiny to the city’s controversial proposal to allow a private developer to build a residential tower on the grounds of a Yorkville public housing development.

Under the city’s plan, Fetner Properties would build a 500-foot-tall building between the two existing 25-story buildings of the New York City Housing Authority’s Holmes Towers development at East 92nd Street and First Avenue. Half of the new building’s approximately 339 residential units would be publicly subsidized affordable housing. The new building, which would sit on a parcel of open space that now holds a playground, would feature an 18,000-square-foot recreational center in its base to be operated by Asphalt Green.

The arrangement is part of the city’s NextGeneration NYCHA initiative to raise sorely needed funds for the public housing agency by selling rights to build so-called “infill” development in open space on public housing campuses.

NYCHA will receive $25 million from Fetner in exchange for a 99-year lease of the Holmes Towers site. NYCHA’s unfunded capital needs over the next five years total nearly $32 billion. The Holmes Towers site alone has nearly $59 million in capital needs.

Community Board 8 will hold a hearing on the Holmes Towers development Jan. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at Stanley M. Isaacs Neighborhood Center, 415 E. 93rd St. Representatives of the mayor’s office, NYCHA and Fetner are expected to attend.

The community board submitted its questions regarding the project in Dec. 20 letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, Stanley Brezenoff, NYCHA’s interim chair and CEO, and Hal Fetner, president and CEO of Fetner Properties.

Among other questions regarding the revenue generated by the deal, community board members requested specifics regarding how and when the money NYCHA is slated to receive from Fetner will be used to fund repairs at Holmes Towers. “How will NYCHA ensure that the funds are used for capital improvements?” the letter reads. “How will accountability be determined and who will be accountable if capital improvements are not made?”

Also at issue is whether the $25 million negotiated by the city adequately reflects the value of a 99-year lease at the site. “The community is concerned that the deal for this development is far less than market value estimates, which is exacerbated by the developer receiving subsidies and tax benefits,” the Community Board 8 letter reads. The community board asks the city whether an appraisal of the land’s the fair market value was performed before the city issued the request for proposals for the site. “If so, what was the assessed value of this parcel?” the letter asks.

The letter also raises a number of questions regarding the potential environmental impact of the project, which will require Brownfield remediation due to the site’s industrial history.

The 500-foot-tall tower, as planned, would not adhere to local zoning requirements. The mayor is expected to use a mechanism known as a mayoral zoning override to waive height and setback restrictions that would otherwise make the project impossible.

CB8 voted in December to request that the mayor not use an zoning override for the project, stating its preference that the administration instead engage in the city’s extensive Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, “if it feels that a zoning change is necessary to effectuate the infill development of this site.”

A ULURP application for the site would allow for formal input from the community board, the borough president and the City Council. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and local Council Member Ben Kallos have each criticized aspects of NYCHA’s deal with Fetner.

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