Developers Seek Rezoning of Yorkville Block to Make Way for 46-Story Residential Tower

The building will hold 452 apartment, of which 25% will be affordable units for people making less than 60% of the area median income.

| 10 Nov 2023 | 06:31

A developer listed as LM East 94 LLC wants to erect a 46-story, mid-block apartment tower in Yorkville, but first, they have to successfully apply to rezone the part of the block where they intend to build.

And a stormy session at Community Board 8’s Land Use subcommittee on Nov. 8 suggests it is not slam dunk by any stretch. The rezoning area, sitting on the northern side of East 94th Street and between Third and Second Avenue, is currently designated as an MI-4, a light manufacturing district where building height and residential use is strictly limited.

LM East 94 LLC, the official applicant for rezoning, appears to be a subsidiary of Friedland Properties and the Chapman Group, which are listed on documents as partners in this joint venture.

In order to effect a rezoning, the developer’s plan must survive the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), which includes a review by the affected community board (in this case, Community Board 8), a review by the Borough President, and final approval by the City Planning Commission and City Council, both of whom can modify the rezoning plan. If the mayor vetoes the plan, the City Council can override the veto. LM East 94 LLC’s application to rezone is still under community board review, with that stage of the process expected to wrap up in December.

“We believe that a project of this size and density is appropriate for the neighborhood,” said Jerald A. Johnson, an attorney and Director of New York Zoning & Land Use at Fox Rothchild LLP at the CB8 subcommittee hearing. “It’s a transit-rich area that can handle the pedestrian traffic with the new 2nd Avenue subway, the Lexington Avenue subway, and the bus lines on East 96th Street and 2nd and 3rd Avenues.”

The proposed tower, covering 385,000 square feet of floor area, will occupy the space currently held by an auto repair shop, an indoor parking garage, and a five-story apartment building. Developers anticipate that it will hold 452 residential units, of which 25 percent will be permanently affordable and income-restricted to those making 60 percent or less of the area median income—around $59,000 for a single person and $85,000 for a family of four.

Renters sitting at the 60 percent mark could pay $1,589 a month for a one-bedroom unit. Those at 40 percent qualify for $1,059-per-month units.

“Yorkville has a limited number of income-restricted units, and this will add to number of affordable housing available,” said Johnson. “Rents are rising faster in Yorkville than in other areas of the city and that’s partly because housing production in this area has been less than in other parts of the city.”

Johnson also suggested that a general revamping of the block and the addition of community and retail facilities on the ground floor would beautify the area and improve the pedestrian experience.

A long gauntlet of questioners disagreed with Johnson’s assessment. Many of them complained that the demolition of the indoor garage would leave them scrambling for fewer parking spots; others feared that the tower would cast a depressing shadow over the surrounding area.

“To use your picture that you use as your sales point with all the high-rises around it, as though we need greater density within those towers, I think it’s just hilarious,” said Jeffrey Blake, who lives on 95th Street right behind the parking lot. He and his neighbors, he complained, “would be placed under a state of permanent darkness” by the building’s shadow. Johnson explained that the residents would still be getting plenty of sunlight, as the increase in shadow cast by the new building compared to the existing ones would be minimal.

Supporters of the project pushed back. “It’s easy to complain about shadows cast on parks when you’re not paying 40 percent of your take-home income on housing,” said Aidan, a public school teacher who lives on East 95th Street. “If that’s your biggest concern, you shouldn’t be the one determining whether or not new and affordable housing gets built.” He also argued that parking spots were less important than affordable housing, especially in a transit-rich area. “You don’t need a car here. And if you have the income for one, you can afford a parking spot regardless.”

After two-and-a-half hours of presentation and back-and-forth, Community Board 8 passed a resolution that recommended approval for the project, but only under the condition that the developers reduce the tower’s height, preserve 200 parking spots, add open space, commit to union labor for construction, and increase the 25 percent of affordable housing units to 30 percent. Although the resolution is non-binding, it can, together with behind-the-scenes lobbying, influence the decisions of City Planning Commission and City Council members who hold the power of life or death over the proposed project.