Manhattan’s Community Board 10 voted against a contested plan to expand Harlem’s Lenox Terrace, which would add five 28-story mixed-use buildings to the current six-building complex.
Olnick Organization, which owns the complex, wants to rezone the site to build five additional towers within Lenox Terrace, which is located between 132nd and 135th streets and Fifth and Lenox avenues. The existing buildings are 17 stories tall, but the rezoning proposal calls for new towers around the existing building that would rise 28 stories. Under the current proposal, those new towers would have around 1,600 residential units, 1,200 of which would be market rate. The proposal includes adding six acres of new green space and retail.
Built in 1958, the rental complex has been widely regarded as an oasis for black New Yorkers, attracting high-profile politicians and artists over the years including former congressman Charles Rangel, lawyer Percy Sutton, and trumpeter Danny Brown.
At a Wednesday meeting, the board voted 20-15 to reject the rezoning proposal, but the “no” vote came with conditions that the community board wants the developer to address. Neighbors and advocates held signs that read “vote no” and voiced their concerns on voting “no with conditions,” instead of simply “no.”
“To me, conditions means that if you agree to these conditions, or you step up to the plate and do these things, then the ‘no’ turns into a ‘yes’,” Delsenia Glover, a community board member and resident of Lenox Terrace, said after the vote. “I think that sets the stage for negotiating for this massive, unholy project that they want to do.”
Some specific reasons why the board did not approve the project include a threat of losing African American plurality in the neighborhood, and the height of the buildings, which the board says could affect the neighborhood’s character. Another reason was centered around a lack of addressing the complex’s historic significance in the proposal: Though Lenox Terrace is not a city landmark, the Landmarks Preservation Commission said in a 2017 letter that it may be eligible for listing on the state or National Register of Historic Places, given its cultural association with the neighborhood’s African American community.
The community board also cited concerns about Olnick’s history of “negligent maintenance and repair” as the complex’s landlord, according to complaints from the Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants, as well as pending litigation against the organization, which allegedly unlawfully deregulated apartments at the complex.
“We look forward to continuing to listen to feedback, working toward a plan for Lenox Terrace that maximizes benefits for current residents and making the case that these benefits are worthy of support,” Tom Corsillo, a spokesperson for the Olnick Organization, said in a statement.
Residents have long opposed the idea of expanding the complex, a proposal for which was first put forth back in 2009.
“There was a time when people moved to Lenox Terrace, middle-income black families—because we couldn’t live downtown—they moved there because that was a place we could afford, that was a place that was nice, and they had open space, and that has been traditionally what Lenox Terrace has represented to this community,” Harlem district leader Cordell Cleare said. “What they’re about to do, we’re afraid, is going to make that place unaffordable, not only to people who live there, but future generations.”
The community board’s vote is merely advisory, and a recommendation as part of the city’s land use review process. The application will now move on to be reviewed by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer’s office.