Community Board considers project that includes 470 apartments, retail space
A proposal for two 14-story buildings with close to 500 apartments planned for Whitlock Avenue is close to securing approval from Community Board 2, but some residents and an elected official want assurances from the developer that community benefits are a big part of any agreement.
City Councilman Ralph Salamanca, who has a say in the city’s final approval process, said he will not give the building his blessing until it allows for a greater range of incomes, including residents who make closer to the region’s average median income (AMI), which is $86,300 for a family of four, or $60,500 for a single person.
“I want to ensure all my buildings are mixed income.” Salamanca said, continuing, “I want to make sure we have low income, but also as much as 100 percent of AMI. I want to be sure I am protecting my working families.”
The average income in Hunts Point taken on its own is $30,257, according to the city.
The developer, the Ader Group, requested a change in zoning for the lot at 1125 Whitlock Ave. between East 165th Street, Aldus Street and Longfellow Avenue from a commercial site to a residential site. However, the new zoning code would still allow the site to contain commercial properties on the lower levels.
Community Board 2 will vote on the proposal at its March 29th full board meeting. The project would then move on to the city’s land use process, ULURP.
If the project is approved, the buildings would be built in two phases. Phase I will result in the construction of 243 apartments, while Phase II construction will include 231 apartments totaling 474 studios to three-bedrooms. The sizes of the apartments range from 364 square feet for a studio to 1,015 square feet for a three-bedroom apartment.
The cheapest of the apartments will be around $325/month for a studio at 30 percent AMI, while a three bedroom could be as much as $1,831/month at 80 percent AMI.
The developers have planned for 90 apartments of varying sizes to be allotted to the city’s Our Space program, which provides subsidized, permanent housing for the homeless. The balance of the apartments will run a range of percentages of AMI, based on the city’s Mix & Match Program.
The first 236 applicants for apartments—50 percent of the total number of new units—must be from the surrounding community district, as dictated by the city’s housing policy. Then the remaining half of the new tenants would be selected through a lottery.
In a recent interview, Salamanca indicated that he would like to see fewer units reserved for the “Our Space” program in order to make room for other people in the community – perhaps as much as half that amount. As plans stand now, 261 apartments will be for residents making over 50 percent of AMI. Salamanca said he will not approve projects that allow for more than 5 percent for “Our Space” units, and he will only approve projects in the area that also contain housing for families that make between 30 percent and up to 80 percent or more of the AMI. “It’s moving in the right direction,” he said of the plans for the building.
At two meetings in February and March, some community board members questioned whether the project is truly intended to fit into the neighborhood. Board member Jazmine Goodwin sees the proposal as a new form of gentrification.
“They were people who didn’t look like us, people who didn’t speak our language and didn’t have concerns for our neighborhood and didn’t live in the neighborhood, didn’t invest in the neighborhood and they just wanted to come into the neighborhood and ‘develop it’,” she said at the February meeting, referring to the representatives from the Ader Group.
Community Board members are also concerned about safety and traffic issues at the site and on the block during construction. Construction will take place along Aldus Avenue, a one-way street, and plans might require that the block between Whitlock Avenue and Longfellow Avenue be closed off for six months in order to house building equipment. That would force trucks to take the only route possible once off the Bruckner: all vehicles including big trucks would get off at Whitlock and stay on the avenue all the way to the Hunts Point Market, which could clog the roads, especially during rush hour.
“Are you going to be telling us that we are going to have to change the traffic flow and re-direct traffic?” asked Robert Crespo, the board’s vice chair.
The Ader Group’s architect, Robert Tredger of Newman Design, said he had not looked into a “site-safety plan.”
At the March 9th meeting, renters of the garages that will be demolished to make way for the new buildings came to demand they are given ample notice before they are displaced. The developers promised to provide three months notice and assist them when they relocate.
Board member Lina Lopez said the project does not address the community’s needs for jobs or affordable housing. When she asked if union construction workers would be hired, a representative of the Ader Group told her they would not because affordable housing projects receiving subsidies from the city, as this one will, are not required to hire union labor.
“Then we don’t need it,” Lopez said angrily, and added “what good is it for us if we can’t pay the rent?”
A local homeowner, Gilberto Constantine, urged the developers to reinvest in the community and hire local workers, saying that although construction is booming in the area, locals are rarely hired. The Ader Group has agreed to work with Workforce1 in Longwood to hire locally.
“You guys can make a difference,” Constantine said, adding that if they committed to hiring local labor, “you’ll be like rock stars.”