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'Frightening' 68-Story Tower Sets 'Dangerous Precedent' in Harlem: Locals

By  Dartunorro Clark and Shaye Weaver | February 23, 2017 4:23pm 

 Some residents say the planned 68-story residential tower, which will offer below-market-rate housing, will be too tall and unaffordable.
Some residents say the planned 68-story residential tower, which will offer below-market-rate housing, will be too tall and unaffordable.
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EAST HARLEM — Plans for a 68-story tower on Second Avenue at East 96th Street were criticized by neighbors who called its size "frightening" and its below-market-rate units unaffordable for the area.

The residential tower would be part of a massive development spanning an entire block from First to Second avenues and from 96th to 97th Street and would include two new school buildings and a revamped public park.

The city's Educational Construction Fund is working with developer AvalonBay Communities on the project, which would straddle the boundaries of East Harlem and the Upper East Side.

Representatives from both entities attended a Community Board 11 meeting on Tuesday night to share details of the plans with residents.

"It's very frightening that you're going to go up to 68 stories, it sets a dangerous precedent," said Marina Ortiz, founder of East Harlem Preservation. 

The scope of the project would have to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure and ultimately be approved by the City Council.

"We do not want this. My neighbors don't want this," Ortiz said.

Neighbors of the project also took issue with the income ranges eligible for the affordable apartments included in the tower.

The tower would have 1,100 to 1,200 rental units with 30 percent of them, or roughly 310 to 330 apartments, expected to be permanently affordable.

One-third of those units will be available to households earning 40 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) or below, and the rest of the units will be set aside for those making 60 percent of the AMI. 

Households that meet the criteria would be eligible for studios for as low as $580 per month, one-bedrooms for $625 and three-bedrooms for $870, according to preliminary figures provided by AvalonBay.

“It’s not affordable," Ortiz said. 

"Forty percent AMI is not affordable, 30 percent AMI is not affordable to the majority of people in East Harlem."

Resident Evelyn Cozallo agreed.

“We need things that are really affordable and it does not need to be 68 stories high,” he said.

A spokesman for Avalon Bay said the height of the building was necessary to create enough market-rate housing to generate revenue.

Martin Piazzola, the senior vice president of AvalonBay Communities said the conversation will continue into how the project can benefit everyone.

“AvalonBay and our partners at ECF are actively engaged with local elected officials and the community to realize the numerous improvements this project will bring to the neighborhood, including three new high schools for East Harlem, hundreds of permanently affordable apartments, a revitalized playground and new retail space along Second Avenue," he said in a statement. 

"We look forward to continuing that dialogue throughout this process.”

Aside from the residential tower, which would take up the southwest corner of the lot and include retail on the ground floor, the developer plans to build two new school buildings on the block to house three schools — the School of Cooperative Technical Education, the Heritage School and Park East High School.

The plan would also involve upgrading the Marx Brothers Playground which currently sits on the west side of the lot, part of which is still being used as a staging area for Second Avenue Subway construction.

The playground is expected to close for roughly five years during construction.

The entire 1.3 million-square-foot development is expected to cost $950 million to build.

All three schools are slated to open in their new buildings sometime between 2021 and 2022 and the residential towers by 2023, officials said.

Jennifer Maldonado, the executive director of the ECF who attended the meeting Wednesday night, said the new development will bring much-needed resources to the schools, particularly the space needed for the different vocations at Cooperative Tech.

The plan would add 40,000 gross square feet to each school building,

“They’re very high-achieving schools, but these are schools where the principals are constantly asking for better facilities," she said.

A similar development was shopped to Upper West Side residents several years ago but, after protests, the DOE scrapped those plans and decided to focus on East Harlem.

Community Board 11 officials have asked that written comments regarding the plan be sent to mn11@cb.nyc.gov no later than 5 p.m. on March 14. The board will vote on the proposal on March 21.