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Lenox Terrace Residents Fighting Against Proposed Commercial Rezoning

 The commercial rezoning would nearly double the number of units and create more commercial space on Lenox Avenue.
Lenox Terrace Rezoning
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HARLEM — Resident of Lenox Terrace are fuming over the fact that their landlord left them in the dark after filing plans with the city to rezone their development.

The Olnick Organization, which owns Lenox Terrace, filed a pre-application with the Department of City Planning in November. They have not held any public meetings about their redevelopment plans in more than a year, tenants said.

"I was surprised and shocked because we were under the impression that they filed in May," said Delsenia Glover, the president of the tenants association.

News of the plan wasn’t a complete shock. Olnick had shared variations of its proposed development since 2008. But the group had never gone as far as filing paperwork with the city.

Now the tenants association is fighting against the clock to kill the rezoning plan before the ULURP process starts.

“For us the filing of it pressures us to step up our game, so to speak, in our opposition,” said Elaine Williams, 80, the treasurer of the tenants association. “If we had known in November, we would’ve stepped up our opposition strategy in December, not May.”

Williams said she is not surprised the landlord kept quiet about submitting plans to the city because the tenants association has publicly opposed the project for years.

In 2014, a survey showed that 78 percent of the tenants oppose the plan.

Olnick did not respond to questions about the timeline for its development plan.

Submitting a pre-application form is the first step of the ULURP process, which is required for any zoning changes.

According to the application, the group plans to change the zoning from a residential R7-2 to a commercial C6-2.

That would allow for six new buildings, the addition of 1,300 residential units and 287,062 square feet of retail space. Currently, Lenox Terrace has about 1,700 residential units and 96,564 square feet of commercial space, according to the application.

Some of the new buildings would be 30 stories tall. Currently, they are 17 stories high. A two-story commercial space full of large box stores would line Lenox and Fifth avenues.

Lenox Terrace Pre-Application Statement

The tenants association opposes the rezoning and the development because it would change the character of the neighborhood. Apart from lengthy construction, it would affect the already-crowded public schools and transportation system, Williams said.

It would also turn their neighborhood into a mall, she said.

“This is a residential community it always has been a residential community,” Williams said. “Within seven blocks you walk to 125th Street, that’s our commercial area.”

The tenants association wants to kill the project before it gets to the ULURP process. They are reaching out to various groups and elected officials to gain as much support as possible.

During the summer, they plan to hold community meetings recruit as many allies as possible.

Although Borough President Gale Brewer has not issued a public statement on the issue, her office has met with residents and other stakeholders about the proposed development, a spokesman said.

Councilwoman Inez Dickens, who represents Central Harlem, has been working with the tenants and owner to negotiate aspects of the proposed development including the number of affordable housing units, protecting existing affordable units, and featuring locally owned business in commercial areas, a spokesman said. 

Because she is acting as a mediator, Dickens does not have an official position on the rezoning, he added.