Borough president rejects plan for five-building luxury development in Harlem

December 17, 2019

Aerial view of the project; Credit: Davis Brody Bond

A developer’s plan to rezone a neighborhood in Central Harlem to make way for a mixed-use development hit another roadblock this week. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer on Monday rejected a rezoning application filed by the Olnick Organization to construct five 28-story luxury towers and one mid-rise building located at the existing Lenox Terrace complex. In her recommendation, Brewer said the project lacks the “public and private investments necessary to make it a prudent exercise of planning for future growth.”

lenox terrace, rezoning, harlemProposed retail at Lenox Terrace expansion; Credit: Davis Brody Bond

“There are few instances where a development the scale of the one proposed by Lenox Terrace Development Associates can be viewed as responsible,” Brewer said. “This proposal promises to change the physical and socioeconomic character of Central Harlem while ignoring the concerns of stakeholders and urban planners in the community, and as a result, I must urge that the proposal as written be rejected.”

Located between Lenox and Fifth Avenue and West 132nd Street West 135th Street, the Lenox Terrace complex consists of six 16-story residential towers and five one-story commercial buildings, built 60 years ago as part of a slum clearing project led by Robert Moses.

The first buildings at the site opened in 1958 to much acclaim, with the New York Times describing the development as having “gold-braided doormen, oversized living rooms, private balconies, high rents, and other luxury features.”

Olnick, which has owned the complex since it first opened, wants to expand the site, by constructing five 28-story buildings that would include more than 1,600 units of housing and 160,000 square feet of retail. Roughly 400 of those units would be designated affordable under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program.

The plan requires a change in rezoning, from the area’s current residential status of R7-2/ C1-4 to a C6-2 designation used in commercial centers. Last month, Manhattan Community Board 10 voted against Olnick’s plan, citing concerns about future out-of-scale development as well as the effect the development, specifically its 1,200 market-rate apartments, would have on the historic black neighborhood.

The rejection matches the position of the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants (LT-ACT), the group that represents the development’s residents. “The Borough President has sided with the tenants of Lenox Terrace and the broader Central Harlem community against this unwanted and harmful development,” Daniel Carpenter-Gold, the staff attorney for TakeRoot Justice, which represents LT-ACT, said.

“We’re grateful to Gale Brewer for calling out Olnick’s bad behavior as a landlord and as an applicant.”

In her recommendation, Brewer calls on Olnick to commit to maintain affordability, invest in infrastructure and open space, support local businesses, and limit commercial space to 10,000 square feet unless occupied by a FRESH grocery store.

The proposal heads next to the City Planning Commission for review. A public hearing on the proposal is taking place on Wednesday, Dec. 18.


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