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Developer Promised Condos But is Building Homeless Shelter, Neighbors Say

 Community members say they were misled by the developer, who is building a shelter instead of condos.
Community members say they were misled by the developer, who is building a shelter instead of condos.
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DNAinfo/Dartunorro Clark

HARLEM — A high-profile developer double-crossed residents by building an “illegal” homeless shelter instead of promised high-end apartments, some community members are claiming.

The West 136th Street Block association accused developer David Levitan, who runs 339 Development LLC, of “complete disregard for protocol” for building a homeless shelter in place of the The James L. Varick Community Center while telling community members it would be condominiums.

The facility is currently under construction.

The center, located at 151 W. 136th St., was formerly owned by Harlem’s historic Mother AME Zion Church, which was also used by local youths for “community enrichment” activities, the block association said.

Levitan bought the 18,000 square foot property from the church in November 2015 for a little over $7 million, according to city records. Only recently have community members learned that it would be something other than what was promised, they said.

The block association is pushing for the city to withhold providing any contracts to Levitan, who could not be reached for comment for this story.

They want all work on the project halted until there is a public hearing. The block association has circulated an online and physical petition.

The block association said, in particular, the developer has run afoul of rules drawn up by Manhattan Community Board 10, which covers the area, in 2008 which state that there must be a moratorium when a homeless shelter is planned for development in the area.

“I don’t want to get into the argument on whether the developer is good or bad,” block association member Candi Halbert told DNAinfo. “We ask that there not be any more (shelters) in our community.

“The block has gotten a lot healthier and I don’t want to go back.”

Harlem City Councilwoman Inez Dickens also sent a letter opposing the shelter to the city’s Department of Homeless Services, stating that the area is “saturated” with shelters.

A DHS representative did not respond to a request for comment. 

Community members said with the several other homeless shelters operating within the area it may breach the the city’s “fair share” criteria, which states that there must have an “equitable distribution of public facilities throughout the city."

Andréa D., a longtime Harlem resident and block association member who declined to give her full last name, lives near the site of the shelter and said she is wary of how the proposal will affect quality of life.

“My main concern is…primarily safety. I have two small children,” she told DNAinfo.

“I’m also concerned about the density and how it’s going to impact the block. It’s going to be detrimental.

“We don’t want to sound like we’re not sympathetic, we know the city needs (shelters), but they’re not building these on the Upper East Side, they’re not building these on the Upper West Side. We’re getting our unfair share.”

The block association plans to take its fight to community board 10’s Health and Human Services Committee meeting Monday at 6:30 p.m. at 215 W. 125th St.