FORT GEORGE — A developer who wants to construct a 16-story apartment building in Upper Manhattan after initially proposing a seven-story structure for the site met with opposition from residents and the local community board Wednesday.
HAP must get approval from the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals for several zoning changes, including a bid to more than double the building’s height from 80 to 162.5 feet.
HAP representative Frank Cheney said that the larger building was necessary in order for the developer to earn a reasonable return on the property because of the unusual features of the lot, which is built into the side of a hill and includes the entrance to the 191st Street 1 train tunnel.
“The irregular shape and sloping top [of the lot] make it impossible to build a profitable as-of-right building,” Cheney said.
In deciding whether or not to approve a zoning variance, the BSA looks at five factors, including whether unique conditions of a lot present a financial hardship for the developer and whether the zoning change will alter the essential character of the neighborhood.
Cheney argued that the proposed building, referred to as HAP 7, would not affect the neighborhood's look due to the nearby buildings.
“The height of the building will be at approximately the same level as the buildings behind it,” he said referring to some structures higher up on the Fairview Avenue hill that can be seen from Broadway.
Cheney said that HAP expects the occupancy of the building to be about 600 people, which he noted represents a very small population increase to the local census tract.
“There’s no question [the building] will change the character of this particular site,” he said. “But we don’t think it will change the character of the neighborhood.”
However, many residents of the 30 who attended the meeting in opposition to the project disagreed.
Steve Salee, who moved to the area a year ago, called the proposal insulting.
“I moved here from the Upper West Side, and what I found there and in Chelsea was the construction of an awful lot of development that looked just like this,” he said. “It destroyed the character of those neighborhoods.”
Gabriel Florimon, a 22-year-old architecture student who grew up on Fairview Avenue, also questioned the appropriateness of such a large structure in a neighborhood dominated by six to eight-story apartment buildings.
“I understand that there’s a need to make a profit, but this is a big building,” he said. “If you went to Overlook Terrace and looked out, you’d see that building sticking out like a sore thumb.”
Florimon said that the building would also impact residents of nearby buildings by reducing their light and air.
“It’s going to affect the quality of life in that area,” he said.
Several residents also expressed concerns about increased traffic on Fairview Avenue, where the entrance to the building’s parking garage would sit, and the toll that 600 more residents would take on the subway.
Yuderka Valdez, an Uptown resident and education advocate, wanted to know why residents should support the zoning changes.
“I just want to hear an answer to this question: What’s in it for the community?” she asked.
Cheney said that there were currently no public benefits, such as affordable units or upgrades to a nearby park, planned for the site. Those incentives were offered by a previous developer who wanted to build four towers up to 37 stories high at the site.
Members of the Land Use committee voted unanimously to oppose HAP’s request for the zoning changes, citing the height of the building, the lack of parking and the potential impact on the character of the neighborhood.
Wayne Benjamin, the committee’s chairman and an architect, pointed out that HAP was aware of the unique conditions of the lot when it purchased the site.
“This site is characteristic of this neighborhood,” he said of the lot’s unusual shape and slope. “The idea that you came to this neighborhood and are trying to build a building that really wants to be on a flat site is a sign that maybe your design approach needs to be different.”
The full board will vote on the proposal on September 29. The BSA takes the community board's recommendation into account when considering variance applications.