By Brendan Krisel
HARLEM, NY — A group of tenants at Harlem's Lenox Terrace development is concerned that an expansion plan proposed by the development's owners will overwhelm the residential complex with luxury housing and "destination retail" stores.
The Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants is urging community boards and city officials and Mayor Bill de Blasio to vote down the Olnick Organization's expansion that was certified for public review in late August. The plan could double the size of the sprawling complex — bounded by Lenox Avenue, Fifth Avenue, West 132nd Street and West 135th Street — by adding as many as 1,600 apartments in five newly-constructed high-rise towers.
Tenants claim that allowing Olnick to build out Lenox Terrace will tarnish the development's "cultural and historical significance as a center of African-American culture," according to statements released Tuesday by the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants. The construction required by Olnick's expansion plan would also severely impact the lives of current residents.
"The thought of eight to 10+ years of continuous disruptive construction to the existing tenants is mind-boggling and frightful. We ask all officials and the mayor to vote against this dehumanizing force of commerce-minded urban planning and put community stability first," Lenn Shebar, President the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants, said in a statement.
Lawyers representing the tenant group said that current zoning regulations at the site would still allow Olnick to expand the complex, but at a smaller scale. The zoning change developers are proposing would turn the site into an area that resembles Harlem's main commercial stretch of 125th Street more than Lennox Terrace's current residential community.
"You don't see places like Target in the pretty renderings that the developer gave the City," Daniel Carpenter-Gold, a staff attorney at TakeRoot Justice, said in a statement. "But make no mistake, that's what they're going for here. If all they wanted was coffee shops and bookstores, they wouldn't need this ridiculous commercial upzoning."
The Olnick Organization based its expansion application off a master plan designed a decade ago by architect Max Bond, a representative of the developer said. Olnick is planning to construct new towers on the site that will add about 1,600 new apartments, 160,000 square feet of new retail space and six acres of green space.
Developers said about 400 of the units would be offered through the city's Mandatory Inclusionary Housing program and the rest would be market-rate. Any amenities built during the construction would be open to all Lenox Terraco residents.
The City Planning Commission certified Olnick's application for the Uniform Land Use and Review Procedure in late August. Community Board 10 and Borough President Gale Brewer will be the first to review the expansion plans, but their votes are advisory. The application will then go to the City Planning Commission and then the City Council.