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Manhattan BP threatens ‘legal remedies’ against Upper East Side NYCHA project

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The Holmes Towers project is subverting the typical land use process and denying key feedback, officials say

Fetner Properties

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer threatened legal action against the de Blasio administration should the mayor sidestep the typical public review process for a contested private development on an Upper East Side public housing complex.

Brewer, who has been vocally opposed to the plan, penned a letter to the mayor’s office this week challenging the city’s plans to acquire mayoral zoning overriders for a 50-story building on the Holmes Towers NYCHA development rather than go through the city’s extensive Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). Brewer threatened “appropriate legal remedies” if the city and developer Fetner Properties do not submit their plans through ULURP, according to the January 20th letter.

“The decision to avoid ULURP for this infill development stands in contradiction to your administration’s commitment to ‘engage communities in comprehensive planning’ as put forth in one of Housing New York’s two fundamental objectives,” wrote Brewer. “If the administration does not proceed accordingly, I am prepared to challenge what I believe to be improper action by pursuing appropriate legal remedies.”

The Holmes Towers development is the first of NYCHA’s 50/50 projects—rental towers built by private developers on NYCHA property—and is set to rise 530 feet above East 92nd Street with 339 apartments. Fetner Properties will lease the land for 99 years and collect rent from the units—half of which will be offered at market rates and half at below-market rates, according to plans filed by the city.

To build the project beyond what current zoning allows, NYCHA seeks three mayoral zoning overrides. One override would allow a structure that would typically violate the city’s sky exposure plane—which sets back buildings to ensure light and air reach street level in dense districts. Another would allow Fetner to build less open space than required for the amount of units and, lastly, an override to construct an ADA-accessible ramp leading to an athletic field that would otherwise be too close to existing buildings, according to NYCHA.

For the privilege of the near century-long lease, Fetner will pay NYCHA $25 million up front. The cash will be used by the authoirty to fund repairs at the Holmes Towers, but residents and elected officials are skeptical that $25 million will cover significant repairs at the Holmes Towers when NYCHA itself puts estimates of the complex’s capital needs at $35 million. Brewer questioned the deal’s economic validity in her letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“I have serious concerns about the financial benefits to NYCHA that could result from this project,” she wrote. “Full public review will allow a complete airing of the costs and benefits to the City as a whole and the surrounding community.”

The mayor’s office has received Brewer’s letter and is in the midst of reviewing the missive. A mayoral spokesperson defended the project Thursday as a key step toward improving the quality of life for Holmes Towers tenants.

“We are using every tool in our arsenal to reverse decades of federal divestment in NYCHA. This project will raise $25 million in critical repairs for Holmes Residents,” said Olivia Lapeyrolerie, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office.

Brewer has followed through on her recent threats to sue the city and in December joined the City Council in a legal challenge to force a trio of contentious towers in the Two Bridges area into the ULURP process after the City Planning Commission approved controversial minor modification applications for the skyscrapers.