Luxe Hell's Kitchen Development Must be Affordable, Locals Say
HELL'S KITCHEN — It's been called "beautiful," "stunning" and "revolutionary," but the eye-catching architecture of a proposed new building on West 57th Street wasn't enough for members of Community Board 4.
The board voted to ask the City Planning Commission to deny zoning changes developer The Durst Organization needs to build its triangular residential behemoth unless 20 percent of its 750 apartments are permanently affordable.
The shining white building, designed by Danish architectural firm BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group, has three low corners, but lifts up into a 467-foot skyscraper on its northeast side.
The massive building would replace much of the block between West 57th and West 58th Streets, between 11th and 12th Avenues. The development will have small retail stores, a supermarket and a two-floor community use facility — likely a day care.
Currently, Durst has agreed to make 20 percent of the units — roughly 150 apartments — affordable for 35 years, but not forever.
The expiry date stoked fears among the board that rent-controlled tenants will eventually be kicked out of the building in favor of residents paying higher rents.
"I have experience with landlords who try to get the next generations out of there," said board member Pam Wolff.
"We don't do that," replied Jonathan Drescher, Durst's Director of Major Projects.
Durst acquired a 99 year lease on the block in 1999 from the estate of Charles Edward Appleby, and since then tried to build everything from a data center to a car dealership on the site. Because of the odd situation — Durst wants to build there, but doesn't actually own the land — it insists that the project only makes sense if the affordable housing expires in 35 years.
"We think this is a great project and in order to do it we need to do it within the structure, the framework that we presented tonight," Drescher said.
The Durst team explained that tenants in the affordable apartments could not legally be kicked out after 35 years.
"The tenant will remain there for as long as they live there," he said.
But that wasn't enough for many board members and neighborhood organizations, who wanted to see a long-term affordable housing solution in a neighborhood that's seen rapid development — and huge spikes in rent.
"The proposed project does not serve the needs of our community," said Matt Klein, an organizer with the West Side Neighborhood Alliance.
"The community does not need more luxury housing development. It needs permanent affordability."
Numerous organizations vouched for Durst as a good landlord, including union workers from SEIU 32BJ who liked that Durst uses union labor and provides good benefits for its employees.
Richard Conley of the Community Preservation Corporation, an affordable housing lender, said that any new affordable housing would help the neighborhood.
“There’s a crisis in the city today," he said.
"There’s not enough affordable housing. If you can build affordable housing for a 35 year duration here in a neighborhood like this, we think it’s a good thing.”
The board insisted that it likes the building and much of the proposal, but the affordable housing needed to be permanent for the proposal to happen. The zoning changes will now go to Borough President Scott Stringer, who will make his own recommendation.
“We want the project to go forward,” said board member Jean-Daniel Noland.
“But we want our community to survive as well”