In what appears to be a last ditch effort to save an embattled project, a Harlem developer has revised a housing plan that seeks to build one of the neighborhood's most massive projects, all within the footprint of an existing apartment complex site.
The Olnick Organization is in the late stages of a controversial rezoning process for Lenox Terrace, a sprawling 1,700-unit housing development built in 1958 between 132nd and 135th Streets on Lenox Avenue. Since the review process began last summer, large numbers of tenants have turned out at public hearings to fight the plan, saying it would add too much density and dramatically change the character of a housing complex that was once considered the preeminent address in Harlem.
The redevelopment has stoked fears about gentrification as well as the erosion of Harlem's black identity.
If approved, the site could be further developed to nearly double the number of units—with five 28-story buildings containing 1,600 units of mixed-income housing and 160,000 square feet of retail. Of the apartments, 400 would be designated as affordable housing.
To date, the community board and elected officials, including local City Councilmember Bill Perkins and the Manhattan borough president Gale Brewer, have said they are opposed to the rezoning.
In advance of a crucial vote from the Planning Commission, Olnick this week submitted changes that would seek a residential rather than a commercial zone change, and preserve an existing entrance.
But the changes, which do not reduce the number of units or amount of retail space, may not be enough to save the project.
Rather than meet with tenants, Olnick instead sent out a brief one-page flyer summing up the two concessions.
One of the tenants, Sharon Wilkens, called the flyer "extraordinarily brief."
"You really can’t intelligently respond," she told Gothamist in a phone interview.
Lenn Shebar, president of the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants (LT-ACT), the tenants' group, said the two sides have not had any negotiations about the plan. "Unilaterally, we are against the rezoning," he said.
Savanna Washington, the vice president of LT-ACT, added: “This is just too much density for this neighborhood.”
In any case, she said they were still planning to seek feedback from residents.
In a statement from Olnick, a spokesperson said, "These changes are a direct response to the requests of LT-ACT and elected officials. Olnick has made numerous changes to the plan in response to input from residents since it was first raised years ago, including reducing the number of towers from six to five and limiting the heights of the new buildings to that of the adjacent Harlem Hospital."
Olnick has floated various rezoning plans over the years, going back to 2003.
Michael Henry Adams, a Harlem historian and preservationist, said he still held out hope that the complex could be landmarked.
Built as the first luxury apartment complex in Harlem, Lenox Terrace was once home to black political elites Percy Sutton and Basil Paterson, along with cultural legends like trumpeter Danny Brown and jazz critic Albert Murray. Former U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel is currently a resident, as is former governor David Paterson.
Adams cited Peg Breen, of the New York Landmarks and Conservancy, who last year argued that the buildings are distinguished for their cultural history.
"It’s not like we have endless examples of these things," he said. "This is it."