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Developer Told to Listen to Residents Looking to Save Basketball Court

By Jeff Mays | June 6, 2011 7:52am

By Jeff Mays

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

HARLEM — Community Board 10 wants to hear from neighbors before deciding whether to approve zoning changes for a developer planning to build two apartment buildings where a basketball court now stands.

L+M Development Partners plans a new 12-story residential 95-unit market-rate condo building with 20,000 feet of retail space on West 116th Street and a nine-story, 100-unit housing affordable housing rental building with 9,000 feet of community facility space on West 117th Street.

Both developments will be located between Lenox and Fifth Avenues.

Residents of 1428 Fifth Ave. told the board that the developer did not speak to them about the loss of the basketball court and an adjacent parking lot.

"There has never been any communication with the tenants about the project," said Ade A. Rasul of the nearby mosque. "When you change the zoning this is not a minor issue."

One woman said the loss of the court would have a negative effect on area children, who she said were already at risk. She estimated that more than 100 children lived at 1428 Fifth Ave.

"You are pushing our children from the back yard into the street and into jail," said the woman who has lived at 1428 Fifth Ave. for 28 years.

L+M wants to rezone the area so that it can add an additional 30,000 square feet of space which would mean an additional 30 to 35 units between both projects, L+M CEO and Chairman Ron Moelis told the board.

"Why don't you care enough to keep that basketball court?" asked Veronica Keitt of the Impac Tenant's Association.

L+M is responsible for the Kalahari, a 249-unit condo that includes 125 affordable units, on the south side of West 116th Street between Lenox and Fifth avenues. L+M has also won acclaim for redeveloping P.S. 90, a six-story Beaux Arts building at West 148th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard. The former school was abandoned because of asbestos problems.

The company specializes in affordable housing, and hired Rafael Cestero, the former head of the city's department of Housing Preservation and Development, earlier this month.

The firm recently completed a rehabilitation of 1428 Fifth Ave, Moelis said. An L+M subsidiary acquired the building a year ago with the idea that they would complete further developments in the area.

"We have a stake in this community. One thought in purchasing the land was to do a mixed-income development," Moelis said.

Noting that he played basketball, Moelis said there may be space near 1428 Fifth Avenue to replace the court but told the board he could make no promises that it would be replaced. The company has also received noise complaints about the court and placing it close to the building may cause more noise concerns.

"There is space adjacent to 1428 (Fifth Ave.) that could support a basketball court. We are willing to sit down with residents and talk about possible solutions," Moelis said. "I can't say I'm not going to develop the site to leave a basketball court."

Building residents and community board members said they wanted a more concrete commitment.

"That court is utilized a great deal. There are people out there that may not have a facility," said CB 10 2nd Vice-Chair Stephane Howze. "When you say make an effort, what does that mean?

With several questions unresolved, CB 10 Chair W. Franc Perry suggested that the resolution be sent back to the Land Use Committee to give the board more time to hear from residents. Because the board is going into summer recess, the vote at the committee's upcoming meeting will stand as the board's recommendation to City Planning and the City Council.

"There were a lot of serious issues that were brought up and we need you to address them," CB 10 Land Use Committee Chair Stanley Gleaton told Moelis.