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Harlem Community Board Demands Say in Citarella Site Development

By Jeff Mays | March 7, 2011 3:15pm | Updated on March 7, 2011 4:38pm
Citarella is still operating at the West 125th Street site in Harlem, despite a court battle to evict the gourmet grocer.
Citarella is still operating at the West 125th Street site in Harlem, despite a court battle to evict the gourmet grocer.
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Photo courtesy of Citarella

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Community Board 9 is demanding greater input in the Economic Development Corporation's selection of a developer for the site of Citarella supermarket on 125th Street.

"Citarella is such an important site in Harlem and they didn't get it right last time," said Community Board 9 chair Larry English. "It's important we be brought in on this process."

The gourmet grocery store has occupied the former Taystee Bakery site since 2005. The city won a court fight to evict the supermarket in 2009, because it says Citarella has not upheld its end of the deal, which was to develop space in the six-building complex on West 125th Street.

Citarella is still operating on the premises while appealing the decision.

Despite Citarella's appeal, the EDC has proceeded with initial development plans. Sixteen developers returned requests for interest last month but Community Board 9 chair Larry English said he was insulted by a recent "shallow" EDC presentation.

"It was so vague that I didn't understand it and stopped paying attention," English said. "Traditionally, EDC makes a decision on development and what the project looks like and then comes to the community board. We want input now before the project moves forward."

The board passed a resolution, by a vote of 25 to 5, to "reject a top-down decision making process."

EDC president Seth Pinsky is scheduled to appear at Community Board 9's executive board hearing later this week. EDC spokesman Kyle Sklerov said that the previous meeting with the community board was part of the community input process.

"We are incorporating the community’s feedback from that meeting into our selection of a developer and plan on briefing the community board again once we have shortlisted the responses," Skerlov said.

English said that briefings are not adequate.

"Anything less than bringing in the community board in a meaningful way before a developer is picked is a deal breaker," said English. "The West Harlem community wants to influence the project before the piles go into the ground and the cranes go up. No one is going to revamp the architectural plans once they are stamped as final."

The city has said it was open to different development possibilities at the site at 461 West 125th Street and 426-458 West 126th Street, which has approximately 134,000 square feet of space. Recent proposed zoning changes to the area may make it possible for residential housing to be built on the West 126th Street side of the project.

That is one of the reasons the community board wants a say in the type of project that will be placed at the site.

"We are looking for a project that make us and the community go 'Wow'. We are looking for a commercial project that ignites development on 125th Street. We don't believe housing is appropriate," said English. "Who is in a better position to say what type of project should go there other than the community?"