Brewer challenges Holmes Tower project


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Borough president claims mayor’s plan to allow private development on Yorkville NYCHA property “illegally circumvented” public land use review


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  • A rendering showing the new residential tower Fetner Properties plans to build on the grounds of NYCHA’s Holmes Towers development. Image: NYCHA




Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is taking Mayor Bill de Blasio to court over his administration’s controversial decision to allow a private developer to erect a 530-foot building on the campus of a Yorkville public housing development without subjecting the project to the city’s land use review process.

Brewer’s lawsuit, filed April 18 in New York County Supreme Court, is the latest development in the long-running dispute over Fetner Properties’ plan to build a new 50-story residential tower on the site of what is now a playground between the two 25-story buildings of Holmes Towers, a New York City Housing Authority development at East 92nd Street and First Avenue.

Plans for the new building, which would rise in close proximity to both 92nd Street and the existing Holmes Towers buildings, do not comply with city zoning regulations governing open space, setbacks and building spacing. At issue in Brewer’s complaint is de Blasio’s plan to unilaterally waive these zoning requirements rather than pursuing necessary changes through the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, or ULURP, which would require extensive public input, including from the community board, City Council and borough president’s office. Brewer contends that city and state law require the project to go through ULURP.

By electing to exempt the new tower from the requirements through the use of an obscure mechanism known as a mayoral zoning override, Brewer’s lawsuit alleges, NYCHA and the de Blasio administration “have illegally circumvented ULURP, to the detriment of the communities they are tasked with serving.”

“It’s undemocratic and unlawful,” Brewer said in a statement. “If this development undergoes ULURP, I’m confident the results would turn out even better for NYCHA than a plan cooked up behind closed doors and then merely announced as a fait accompli.”

Market-rate rental units

The Fetner project is part of the mayor’s “NextGeneration NYCHA” initiative, which aims to raise money for the beleaguered public housing authority by selling rights to build so-called “infill development” on open space within public housing campuses. Fetner will contribute $25 million to NYCHA in exchange for a 99-year lease at the Holmes Towers site. NYCHA currently has nearly $32 billion in unfunded five-year capital needs, and Holmes Towers alone requires nearly $59 million for repairs.

Half of the new building’s 339 rental units will be market-rate and half will be publicly subsidized affordable housing.

Brewer has questioned whether the city negotiated adequate compensation from Fetner in exchange for the lease; she alleges that the developer will receive over $60 million in housing subsidies for the project, which will also not be subject to city property taxes because of its location on city-owned land.

“The Borough President brings this action to require NYCHA to proceed with a genuine community planning process pursuant to ULURP [...] to ensure that the public receives the best possible deal from the lease of this land to Fetner,” Brewer’s lawsuit states.

A spokesperson for the mayor did not respond to a request for comment.

“The lawsuit is under review,” Nick Paolucci, a spokesperson for the city’s Law Department, wrote in an emailed statement. “We’ll respond as we proceed in the litigation.”





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