Mayor Bill de Blasio signaled his support on Friday for a private housing development on the grounds of an Upper East Side public housing complex, despite protests from residents and elected officials who have threatened to sue the city.
The proposed infill development on East 92nd Street is one of the linchpins of New York City’s Housing Authority’s NextGen initiative in which the financially struggling agency would strike deals with private developers to generate money for capital improvements. The developer is expected to pay NYCHA $25 million upfront to build the Upper East Side project on the site of what is currently a playground for a public housing complex called Holmes Tower.
Although NYCHA has identified several properties for its NextGen program, it has to date only selected developers at Holmes Tower and Wyckoff Gardens in Brooklyn's Boerum Hill neighborhood.
Because the 50-story project violates local zoning rules, NYCHA is seeking what is known as a mayoral zoning override. The measure would allow the plan to bypass the public review process known as Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).
During his weekly interview on The Brian Lehrer Show, the mayor did not say whether he intended to grant the request, saying that his administration was looking at the options and would decide soon.
But he was unequivocal about the necessity of infill development at NYCHA's Holmes Tower property.
“I am resolute that development needs to happen on that site,” he said, adding that money from the project would deliver much-needed funding for repairs at the Holmes Tower, which has $35 million in capital needs.
The development would also create more affordable housing. Half of the roughly 338 units will be set aside for individuals making up to 60 percent of the area median income, which comes out to $43,860 for an individual and $62,580 for a family of four.
“This about the needs for the many,” de Blasio later added. “We have to be practical in the name of working people who deserve affordable housing.”
But some local residents, including those at NYCHA, have been outspoken in their opposition to the plan. During a public hearing in January, residents and community board members chastised NYCHA over the project, saying it was too tall and that the $25 million deal was inadequate.
In a letter to the mayor dated February 20th, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said she opposed any effort to push the project through without a public review process, including the use of a mayoral zoning override.
Absent a public review, Brewer wrote, “I am prepared to challenge what I believe to be improper action by pursuing appropriate legal remedies.”
Asked about Brewer’s objection to the height of the building and its violation of zoning, de Blasio said, “I just disagree … We have to recognize that if we’re going to provide for people who need affordable housing and people who live in public housing, we need a certain amount of height and density.”