Ideas Sought For Redevelopment at Site of Alexander Hamilton's Former Home

By Jeff Mays on June 2, 2011 8:34am 

Hamilton Grange at its former site at 287 Convent Ave.
Hamilton Grange at its former site at 287 Convent Ave.
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wallyg/flickr

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — The National Park Service is looking for public input on how to redevelop the former Convent Avenue site of Hamilton Grange, the home of founding father Alexander Hamilton.

But with the federal agency listing a preference to develop affordable housing with dedicated community space on the plot of land at 287 Convent Ave., some area residents are already up in arms.

"This is quite a departure from what the community said it wanted in that space," said Brad Taylor, chair of Community Board 9's Waterfront, Parks and Recreation Committee.

As far back as 1995, residents expressed an interest in building a visitor's center for the Grange, housing for National Park Service rangers, or to utilize the plot as open space. A flower garden planted by children at P.S. 153 in 2009 is now on the site.

But in the amendment to the National Park Service's general management plan, the agency lists its preference for exchanging the land, which has a deed restriction preventing the construction of any building larger than a two-family home, and no taller than three stories, for a piece of equivalently-valued land without any such restrictions.

If the land is handed over to a third party, the new owners could build a new structure and apply to be exempted from the requirement that they abide by the two-family and height restrictions. The only restriction would be a portion of the deed requiring that the new owner include a portion of community space be built on the property. The National Park Service would have no further involvement with the site other than to enforce the requirement that the site have dedicated community space, said those familiar with the contract.

"Redevelopment of the site as a multi-use facility would help to fulfill the goals, themes and objectives for the Convent Avenue site," the Park Service wrote in its report.

Other options on the table include leaving the space as a flower garden, or disposing of the property with the requirement that there be a dedicated community space in perpetuity, but without further oversight by the Park Service.

The Grange at its new location in St. Nicholas Park.
The Grange at its new location in St. Nicholas Park.
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Courtesy Friends of St. Nicholas Park

Taylor said that the site is so small, it might not amount to much in the way of affordable housing, even if the deed restrictions are removed. But it would cost the community dearly in terms of open green space.

"Just because we are in favor of affordable housing doesn't mean we want affordable housing wherever. There was clearly an expressed interest in keeping the space open," said Taylor.

The Grange, built in 1802, originally stood on Hamilton's 34-acre estate on the site of what would eventually become West 143rd Street. As the street grid developed, the house was moved in 1889 to save it from demolition. The home was moved again in 2008 to the southeast corner of St. Nicholas Park where it is expected to open on September 17 after restoration.

Hamilton was instrumental in helping to get the Constitution adopted. He founded the agency that would become the U.S. Coast Guard and served as the first Treasury Secretary from 1789 to 1795.

Given his contributions to this country, Taylor said he'd like to see Hamilton Grange have a decent visitor center. Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate, has a $43 million, 42,000 square-foot visitors center.

With a little ingenuity, he said, St. Luke's Church could be renovated to serve as a visitor's center while the small congregation there continues to use the basement for worship. With his connection to New York, there are many organizations that might be interested in donating to the project, he said.

"I understand that Hamilton was not a president, but he did as much for the founding institutions of this country as any of those guys," said Taylor.

The park service is also seeking input about what to do with the statue of Hamilton at the former Convent Avenue site. The statute could remain at the site or be moved within the confines of St. Nicholas Park.

The meeting seeking public comment will be held Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at 645 St. Nicholas Ave., Harlem School of the Arts.

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