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Developers Move Forward with East River Plaza Residential Towers

By Gustavo Solis | December 16, 2014 6:38pm
  Developers held their last community meeting before embarking on the city’s   ULURP process.
The Three Towers
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EAST HARLEM — Developers are moving ahead with their plan to build three towers on top of the East River Plaza mall.

Blumenfeld Development Group and Forest City Ratner Companies, which own the mall on East 116th Street, held their last community meeting before embarking on the city’s land-use process next year.

“The biggest concern and input we’ve had about the towers is the heights of the towers and why those heights,” said David Blumenfeld, a vice president at the development group.

The project will bring 1,100 units and thousands of people to Pleasant Avenue. Developers hope to get their application certified by the summer of 2015 and complete the ULURP process by early 2016, Blumenfeld said.

The meeting was set up as a Q and A between the developers and the residents, but at times it turned into a conversation between those that support the towers and those the oppose them.

“People are saying that this is a monster,” said resident Raphael Benavides. “But there are four buildings in the Taino Towers and they are 30 stories tall.”’

The development will bring jobs to local residents and customers to business owners, he added.

People in the crowd shouted back that the Taino Towers are not built on top of a 100-foot mall and that they are 100 percent affordable housing, not the 25 percent the developers have committed to.

The mall adds about 10 stories to the towers, which will be 36, 42 and 48 stories tall. The tallest tower will be 585 feet.

Developers have tweaked the design based on community  input, Blumenfeld said.

The design originally called for only one entrance to the development, which would be on East 118th Street. Since residents complained that it would turn the quiet cul de sac into a driveway, the developers have added to alternate entrances.

Another important issue to residents was who would get access to the 275 affordable housing units.

The developers looked at demographic data from Community Board 11 to determine the income requirements, said Melissa Burch, executive vice president for commercial and residential development at Forest City Ratner.

The rent will vary from $494 a month for a studio to $1,181 for a three bedroom, Burch added.

Burch also provided a breakdown of the proposed income requirements:

► One person would have to make between $17,600 and $35,200

► Family of two between $20,100 and $40,200

► Family of three between $22,600 and $45,300

► Family of four between $25,100 and $50,300

► Family of five between $27,100 and $54,300

► Family of six between $29,100 and $58,300

While some thought that the requirements should be lowered for people who are retired and on a moderate fixed income, others thought the income requirements should be higher.

“What I’ve noticed on Pleasant Avenue is that there are apartments for rent starting at $2,500,” said Vivica Diaz. “What about the people that make more money?”

Diaz fears that there is a growing number of people who make too much to qualify for affordable housing but not enough to pay market rate.  

During the meeting, Blumenfeld also took time to talk about the process going forward, which will include five public hearings in the next year.

The developers need to go through the ULURP process because, while there are no zoning changes they need to open up the special permit that the mall is in to build on top of it. The project will be funded by a combination of tax credits and private funds, he added.

Questions about the project’s impact on Pleasant Avenue, such as added traffic and street congestion will be addressed when they meet the Department of City Planning to go over their Environmental Impact Statement, he said.

A group of residents feared that the development may contribute to East Harlem’s already increasing rent prices.

“We are here talking about parking,” said Andrew Padilla. “That is irrelevant if you don’t live here anymore.”