Year-long review for housing project

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West 108th Street development would create hundreds of units but opposition builds


  • A rendering of an affordable housing develoment proposed for West 108th Street. Courtesy of Dattner Architects

Community groups and stakeholders are gearing up to for a lengthy public process to review the development of a proposed Manhattan Valley affordable housing facility, which has already drawn heated debate.

The facility, which would expand a homeless shelter on West 108th Street and create hundreds of new units of affordable housing, will be built on the footprint of two existing city-owned parking garages. The loss of hundreds of parking spaces and the prospect of noisy construction has mobilized Save Manhattan Valley, a group of local residents who have been leading a months-long effort to stop the development. The group has collected over 1,700 signatures in support of their goals.

Because public land is being used for the project, it is subject to the city’s uniform land-use review procedure, which requires public hearings as well as an advisory review by Community Board 7. The process is set to begin this spring.

Save Manhattan Valley has been unsuccessfully attempting to meet city officials, said Michael Hiller, an attorney retained by the group, who pointed to the fact that the land-use review begins only after the city has decided to move forward on the development.

Save Manhattan Valley believes there are other sites that can be used for the facility without affecting the neighborhood’s residents, Hiller said. He pointed to a 2014 study by the Municipal Arts Society of New York which counted more than 3,100 city-owned sites with no current use.

“We are prepared to identify at least 10 facilities which will be suitable for this process, with no or limited displacement,” Hiller said. “It’s not as if the people of Manhattan Valley don’t care about supportive housing; they do. But when the adverse effects threaten harm to their children and other neighborhood residents, they have to take a stand.”

The demolition of the parking garages has been one of the major sticking points for the group, whose members worry that people who depend on their cars may be unable to find street parking.

According to a city-commissioned study, the two largest garages have a capacity of 550 vehicles, though the study acknowledges that the vehicles parked inside can exceed the capacity if the aisles and elevators are used. The demolition of a third parking garage, with a capacity of 125 vehicles, was planned initially but the city has since announced that it will remain for at least another five years.

The city’s review will take most of this year, at the end of which The West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing, a nonprofit that manages affordable housing complexes in the city, hopes to begin construction.

As proposed, the new building will be 11 stories, requiring a zoning variance to build higher than the seven stories zoning regulations allow. The facility will expand the current WSFSSH-run shelter from 92 beds to 110 beds. There will be an additional 120 supportive housing units for seniors and 74 new apartment for families. All are reserved for people making less than the area median income.

But with skyrocketing rents and rising homelessness in the city, those touting the project say the inconveniences are worth tolerating.

“There’s an affordable neighborhood crisis,” said Manhattan Valley resident Julie Hertzog, who consults with a national affordable housing advocacy organization but is not affiliated with the WSFSSH project. “We need these units.”

Median rates for housing in Manhattan Valley as of Sunday ranged from $2,150 for a studio to $3,750 for a three-bedroom, according to RentHop. Rent levels for the West 108 Street development range from $865 for a studio to $1,289 for a three-bedroom. The development will also have one-bedroom units at $419 for seniors.

Hertzog said her support for the planned development came down to beliefs and ideals.

“Our neighborhood has seen a lot of gentrification and neighborhood is much improved, in terms of safety,” she said. “To say we now are not going to allow people of low income to take advantage of that opportunity — that’s contrary to my values and I think the values of the Upper West Side.”

Trinity Lutheran Church of Manhattan, West End Presbyterian Church, Friends of Anibal Aviles Playground and over a dozen other community groups have signed on to support the proposed facility, WSFSSH executive director Paul Freitag said, cumulatively representing thousands of Manhattan Valley residents.

But Reina Kim, a parent of a sixth grade at Booker T. Washington Middle School who is not a member of Save Manhattan Valley, said she felt the school’s need had been left out of the debate.

“I saw there was debate over what’s more important — cars or people?” Kim said. “But no one was talking about students.

“My concerns are about the construction dust, noise and street safety,” she said, worrying that students would be unable to concentrate with heavy construction going on nearby. The school sits across the street from the planned development.

Any work done on the buildings could release lead, asbestos and other hazardous chemicals into the air, Hiller said.

Freitag said WSFSSH has met with school officials twice to discuss their concerns and how to mitigate impacts on the school.

“If in fact there was an important test day, we could arrange to make sure it’s not intrusive to kids,” Freitag said.

He added that WSFSSH is asking its contractors to propose construction methods that can keep dust, noise or other disruptions to the school and other neighbors to a minimum. The organization plans to use a precast construction system, which would allow large pieces of the structure to be built offsite and then delivered to West 108 Street and lifted into place.

Under the current timeline, a roughly two-year construction period would begin at the end of the year, with the building ready to take in residents in early 2020, Freitag said.

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