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NYCHA backtracks on 50-story Upper East Side infill tower

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The controversial project is back at square one

A rendering of the initially proposed 50-story tower at the Holmes Towers on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Fetner Properties

The New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) has scrapped a controversial private development on an Upper East Side public housing complex after fierce pushback and a lawsuit against the project.

NYCHA withdrew its application for a 50-story building on a playground at the Holmes Towers development it had planned with Fetner Properties. The building was intended to be the first of NYCHA’s 50/50 projects—rental towers built by private developers on public housing property—and was set to rise 530 feet above East 92nd Street with 339 apartments.

Now, city officials and Fetner are going back to the drawing board as the city restarts its community engagement process in the coming weeks and reconfigures the plan, says NYCHA.

“We are reevaluating our previous plans at Holmes Towers so that we can continue to engage residents in a meaningful manner while also addressing the $58.9 million needed to improve their quality of life,” NYCHA spokesperson Chester Soria said.

Fetner was set to lease the land for 99 years and collect rent from the units. Half were planned at market rates and half at below-market, though NYCHA is considering changes to the mix of affordability, the building’s size, and its design, according to the agency.

In exchange, Fetner was slated to pay NYCHA $25 million up front to cover repairs at the Holmes Towers complex, where the capital need is more than double that figure. Community advocates and elected officials questioned the deal, along with the mayoral zoning overrides that were expected to approve the project instead of the typical Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Many argue that $25 million is an insufficient sum for the lucrative public land, including the area’s member of Congress.

“The city proposed exchanging NYCHA land for funds to make repairs, but the amount of money they would receive was never enough to make the transaction worthwhile,” said congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.

City Council member Ben Kallos said he was “grateful that NYCHA has heard our voices and agreed to begin a new, more meaningful community engagement.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer was another vocal opponent, and filed a lawsuit against the project in February; the city is working to dismiss that now that it’s back to square one with the project. Brewer did not return requests for comment.

“We remain committed to working with NYCHA to advance a project at this site to deliver new affordable housing, open space and much-needed funds for public housing infrastructure,” said a spokesperson with Fetner Properties.