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East Harlem Community Board Wants Say in NYCHA Land Development

By Jeff Mays | February 21, 2011 2:07pm
Wagner Houses in East Harlem has 1.4 million square feet of undeveloped space.
Wagner Houses in East Harlem has 1.4 million square feet of undeveloped space.
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DNAinfo/Ben Fractenberg

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — As the New York City Housing Authority looks to partner with private real estate companies to develop space in its complexes, East Harlem community board members are working to make sure the community gets a say.

Community Board 11 wants to survey the undeveloped space in public housing complexes in the area — which houses more public housing than anywhere else in the country — to determine what types of projects will be acceptable to the community. The money for the survey could come out of CB 11's budget, or they may apply for a grant.

"We need to be proactive and have the conversation now," said LaShawn Henry, chair of Community Board 11's Land Use committee.

The move comes as more local officials, including Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, are calling for NYCHA to develop a long-term policy for the development of public housing land that includes more public involvement. Because NYCHA is a federal agency, they need only federal approval to sell land or partner with developers.

"We renew our call for a consistent, long-term strategy for the disposition of NYCHA property," Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer told DNAinfo last week.

About 85 percent of NYCHA's unused development rights are concentrated in Central and East Harlem, the Upper West Side and the Lower East Side. East Harlem has 9.8 million square feet, or about 32 percent, of NYCHA's unused development rights in Manhattan. Approximately 14.1 million square feet of developable space is in Central and East Harlem.

"We don't want to wait for NYCHA," Warren James, an architect and East Harlem resident told the board. "Once developers start buying the millions of square feet they may be able to do whatever they want. We want to be able to say if you develop this much space we need a new school or a new park.'"

The process has become a major issue in Community Board 10, where the city has partnered with NYCHA and the Harlem Children's zone to build a $100 million charter school on 93,000 square feet of open space at the St. Nicholas Houses. More than 700 residents signed a petition against the project to protest the loss of open space.

Also included in the land use study for the school was 13-story, 200 unit residential building. Community Board 10 officials felt that there was not enough public input on the project.

NYCHA says that even though they do not have to follow the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure when seeking to develop land, the federal government requires them to consult with the local community as part of the disposition process.

In addition, NYCHA says new development is for the public benefit and provides things such as more affordable housing, or in the case of the Harlem Children's Zone school, important services. NYCHA has also struggled to close a budget gap.

"NYCHA is getting ready to partner with private developers," said Alvin Johnson, chair of the housing committee. "It is going to happen so we have to be ready."