The city's Planning Commission has overwhelmingly voted in favor of a plan to rezone Lenox Terrace, one of the largest apartment complexes in Harlem, moving a controversial project forward for a decisive vote by the City Council.
The 11-1 vote on Monday approved a plan calling for an infill development consisting of five 28-story buildings containing 1,600 units of mixed-income housing and 160,000 square feet of retail. Of the apartments, at least 400 would be designated as affordable housing.
The plan would nearly double the number of units at Lenox Terrace, where 1,700 units were built in 1958 by its current owner, the Olnick Organization. The rezoning has faced vocal opposition from existing tenants, who have argued that it would add too much density and dramatically change the character of a historic housing complex that was considered Harlem's first luxury development. For some, the redevelopment is another sign of a gentrifying Harlem that is increasingly losing its black identity.
As part of a last minute revision, Olnick had decided to seek a residential rather than a commercial zone change, and some design changes including removing a proposed 6-story building along Lenox Ave, skybridges that would have connected buildings, as well as several curb cuts.
But the changes failed to sway the tenant's group. Prior to the commission's vote, Lenn Shebar, president of the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants (LT-ACT), told Gothamist, "Unilaterally, we are against the rezoning."
The focus now turns to City Councilmember Bill Perkins, whose vote will be critical in the City Council decision. Prior to the plan's revision, both he and Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer had expressed opposition to the project.
Perkins' office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Through the public hearing process, Olnick representatives have stressed that the new development would create construction jobs, affordable housing, and revitalization of street-level retail.
“The best way to keep Harlem affordable is to create more affordable housing, and at Lenox Terrace that is only feasible through the proposed rezoning,” said Seth Schochet, president of the Olnick Organization, in a press release. “Today’s approval by the City Planning Commission puts the largest private affordable housing initiative in Harlem on a pathway to a fully approved project and we look forward to continuing our dialogue with LT-ACT about how to maximize benefits for current residents.”