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East Harlem Leaders Want More Affordable Housing at 125th St. Development

By Jeff Mays | January 9, 2014 5:10pm
 East Harlem leaders are concerned that a plan to develop two 32-story towers at Park Avenue and 125th Street with up to 650 rental apartments will only initially have up to 70 guaranteed units of affordable housing.
Continuum Company's 32-story East Harlem Towers
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HARLEM — East Harlem leaders are demanding that a developer building two 32-story towers at Park Avenue and 125th Street guarantee more than the 70 affordable housing units that are currently on the table.

"We need to make it clear that we want more affordable housing," said Community Board 11 member Alvin Johnson, who said he was concerned that Ian B. Eichner's Continuum Company had only guaranteed up to 70 units in the first of the two 32-story towers to be built at 1800 Park Avenue.

The developer, which purchased the land in October 2013 for $66 million from Vornado Realty Trust, hasn't promised any affordable units in the second tower. Both towers will have a total of 650 residential units.

The number of affordable units in the second tower — if there were to be any — was up in the air, confirmed William Wallace IV, senior finance and acquisitions officer for Continuum Company.

"No one has paid $66 million for a piece of dirt in Harlem in the history of Harlem," said Wallace, explaining that the developers still needed to obtain financing for the almost 600,000 square foot project, which was expected to cost $415 million and to include 70,000 square feet of retail space.

"Banks are looking at us like we are crazy," added Wallace, who said affordable housing in the second tower would be based on conversations with the new administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Wallace added that the company "remains open" to "exploring increased affordability" in the second tower.

But CB 11 members stressed the number of affordable units in the project was a priority.

"We want to make sure this community gets exactly what it deserves," said LaShawn Henry, chair of CB 11's Land Use and Planning Committee.

The company came before the board because they are seeking support for a variance to reduce the amount of parking on the site by half. Instead of building 254 parking spaces as required by zoning, the company wants to have 127 spaces.

Less parking spaces would mean more room for retail and more income for the developer, along with construction savings. More retail would mean more jobs, the developers argue, and the company doubts that 254 parking spaces is necessary.

"We are the poster child for transportation-oriented development," said Wallace. "We are right next to Metro North and we have a subway a block away."

Some CB 11 members are advocating a push for a guarantee of more affordable housing before the board gives support to the variance.

Henry said the board was "on the record" for "reduced parking in exchange for increased affordable housing."

Continuum hoped to have five to six retailers in the space by 2016, including a supermarket chain similar to Trader Joe's, said Wallace.

They plan to finish the first tower by 2017.

The project was one of several that was expected to transform that section of East Harlem, said CB 11 chair Matthew Washington, who warned the board that it was necessary to look at the big picture and not at each development project in isolation.

The Corn Exchange Building at 125th Street and Park is being redone by developer Artimus. Across the street from 1800 Park Avenue, Waterbridge Capital paid $37 million for three lots, where it plans to build retail as well as a residential tower.

"I see this as creating a new frontier in Harlem," said Alde Ortega, senior vice-president of Cauldwell Wingate, the general contractor for the Continuum project.