As rumors continue to swirl around the Rivington House sale on the Lower East Side, similar trouble may be brewing for a property in Harlem. A New York Times investigation has revealed that the City's Department of Citywide Administrative Services took $875,000 to lift the deed restriction on an empty lot at the corner of St. Nicholas Avenue and West 152nd Street — a property that was only to be used by a non-profit cultural organization.
The land was owned by the Dance Theater of Harlem, and neighbors were worried for months that the financially struggling company would sell its land. Developer BRP Companies went into contract for the site in May 2015 and finalized the sale last month for $3.1 million, according to the Times.
The developer and the city may have been in discussions to build market-rate and affordable units at the site, according to the Times' investigation, but local residents say they were never informed of these discussions.
The case in Harlem mirrors the one on the Lower East Side in many ways. For one, the local community board, the local councilman, Mark Levine, nor the Manhattan Borough President's office were informed about the sale or the lifting of the deed restriction.
There seem to be some ties to the de Blasio administration in this case as well. The Times' reporting revealed that developer might have made a donation of $10,000 to Mayor Bill de Blasio's causes.
The property was granted an exemption in 2012 when the city changed the zoning laws in the neighborhood. It was believed at the time that student housing would be built at the site so local elected officials campaigned for more density and height, but one elected official told the Times that he would never have supported the exemption had he known about discussions to lift the deed restriction.
Construction permits for the site have yet to be submitted so it's unclear what exactly will happen next, but this deal too is being investigated by the city. Lifting deed restrictions on land previously owned by the city is a rare phenomenon, but since de Blasio took office, there have been nine instances, according to the Times, but in most cases the city didn't accept any money, and instead imposed more restrictions on the site.