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Manhattan BP sues city over plan for private housing at NYCHA complex

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The city has “illegally circumvented” the typical land use review, according to the lawsuit

The footprint of the Upper East Side development proposed by Fetner Properties.
Manhattan Borough President’s Office

A controversial private development planned on an Upper East Side public housing complex faces a new legal hurdle.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has followed through on threats to sue Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration over Fetner Properties’s plans to erect a 50-story building on the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) Holmes Towers development. Instead of going through the typical Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which gathers input from locals and elected officials before culminating in a City Council vote, the city plans to skirt the lengthy process and acquire mayoral zoning overriders for the project. But Brewer’s suit argues that steamrolling the public review process is unlawful.

“From the beginning, Borough President Brewer has made clear that robust public review following established land use procedures is needed—and indeed legally required—to vet a proposal of this magnitude,” states the Manhattan Supreme Court suit, which was filed Thursday. “Unfortunately, despite the enormity of the proposed changes, Respondents have illegally circumvented ULURP, to the detriment of the communities they are tasked with serving.”

Brewer charges that the project, which is set to raze a playground and rise between two 25-story NYCHA buildings, violates state public housing law and the city’s charter. The suit comes as a blow to a project that is poised to be the first of NYCHA’s 50/50 program—rental towers built by private developers on land owned by the cash-strapped city agency.

Fetner Properties is set to lease land at East 92nd Street for 99 years and collect rent from the units—169 are slated as affordable housing units while another 169 will be market rate. In exchange, Fetner will pay NYCHA $25 million toward repairs at Holmes Towers.

A spokesperson for Fetner said the agency is “committed to delivering new affordable housing, open space, and a state-of-the-art recreational and community center, as well as new funds to support much-needed building and infrastructure repairs for NYCHA residents.”

And while Brewer acknowledges the potential the 50/50 project offers the city and its public housing tenants, she has her doubts that the $25 million will be enough for upgrades at the complex, especially when NYCHA itself puts estimates of the complex’s capital needs at $35 million.

“Serious questions exist as to whether respondents negotiated adequate compensation from the developer and whether the revenue generated will address NYCHA’s pressing capital needs,” according to the suit. “At the same time, the Holmes Towers Infill Development is also an exciting opportunity to create a model for thoughtful, inclusive planning on NYCHA land to raise funds for capital improvements and create affordable housing.”

The city’s law department says the suit is under review. Mayoral spokesperson Olivia Lapeyrolerie defended the project as a boon for Upper East Side public housing tenants.

“We are using every tool in our arsenal to reverse decades of federal divestment in NYCHA,” said Lapeyrolerie. “This project will raise $25 million in critical repairs for Holmes Residents and create new, affordable housing on the Upper East Side.”