At CB4 Meeting, Housing at Fulton Takes The Lead

Photo by Eileen Stukane CB4 Land Use Committee co-chair Lee Compton (at right, standing), presided over discussion of the 158-unit, 18-story building planned for a Fulton Houses site currently occupied by a parking lot and a trash compactor.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
CB4 Land Use Committee co-chair Lee Compton (at right, standing), presided over discussion of the 158-unit, 18-story building planned for a Fulton Houses site currently occupied by a parking lot and a trash compactor.

BY EILEEN STUKANE | Resuming regular monthly meetings after an August break, September 3’s Community Board 4 (CB4) full board meeting offered an opportunity for a number of community issues to be aired — but the primary focus of the 10-item agenda was the proposed Fulton Affordable Housing, a project that had already packed the Fulton Center Auditorium (119 Ninth Avenue, between 17th & 18th) twice this summer. In addition to 30 CB4 members, close to 100 people once again filled the room. Interest in the 158-unit, 18-story building planned for a parking lot and trash compactor site on the north side of West 18th Street near 10th Avenue, started to grow in July when the community learned of a plan to convert certain playgrounds on the Fulton campus into parking areas. This was resolved by the time the CB4 Land Use Committee met in August to vote on zoning changes and building modifications.

According to Uniform Land Use Review Planning (ULURP), CB4 had 60 days from July 8 — when the Fulton project received its ULURP certification — to offer its recommendations for changes to the City Planning Commission (CPC). At the September 3 meeting, the results of the voting by the CB4 Land Use Committee, and its recommendations, had been formulated into a letter to be discussed by the community and the board before being finalized and sent to the CPC (CB4’s outside date for submitting to CPC is September 16). CB4 usually is able to offer input on a project before the ULURP clocks begins to tick. It surprised the community that the developer had applied for certification without prior notice to CB4. However, Crain’s recently reported that there is a big push to get approvals through CPC before the developer-friendly Bloomberg administration ends on December 31 — and even Mayor Bloomberg himself wants approval for certain projects as part of his legacy.

CB4 chair Corey Johnson called the meeting to order but, due to a conflict of interest, excused himself from moderating the discussion and abstained from voting on the Fulton project (due to the fact that he has worked with the law firm representing the residents).

Lee Compton, co-chair of CB4’s Land Use Committee, took over since the Fulton Affordable Housing project was first on the evening’s agenda. The developers — Artimus Construction and the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) — had requested a map amendment altering the district from an R8A to an R8 to allow for a higher building and zoning waivers that would allow changes in the proposed building’s base height from 85 to 124 feet (front setback from 20 to 10 feet, rear setback from 20 to 24 feet) as well as a change in the requirement for the sky exposure plane (the height at which a building begins to be angled for light and air).

Compton introduced Evan Kashanian of Artimus Construction, who delivered the same power point presentation and offered the same handouts of drawings and information that he had used for the CB4 Land Use Committee meeting. He also noted once more that no NYCHA parking permit holder would lose a space, however the spaces would be reduced from 114 to 101 as part of the project. Currently, 96 NYCHA residents hold parking permits. A breakdown of apartments according to the 2013 HUD Area Median Income (AMI) rates showed 40 percent of units would be offered at 165 percent AMI, making a two-bedroom apartment $3,132 a month. This, and the fact that no three-bedroom apartments are being offered, would be a topic of discussion at the board’s business meeting following the public session.

Miriam Gonzalez, an HPD project manager, spoke about a mayoral zoning override request to waive the street planting from a required 34 trees, which would be the entire lot area to five trees fronting the proposed new building. She explained the marketing process and preferences: five percent preference for people with immobilities, two percent for the visual and/or hearing disabled, 50 percent for CB4 residents, five percent for municipal employees, 20 percent for NYCHA residents. Anyone interested in an apartment should apply through NYC Housing Connect on the HPD website (nyc.gov/hpd).

Community questions following the presentation had little to do with the requested zoning changes and waivers. Kashanian was queried about plans for hiring from the community. He also revealed after being asked, that the building would be nonsmoking and pets would not be allowed. A few audience members gasped. CB4 member Barbara Davis asked why no pets and Kashanian said “allergies,” and added, “We’ve done this in other buildings and we’re basing this on past experience.” Shirley Gunson said she was speaking for her third and last time when she once more requested that a medical facility be considered for the community space in the project as people are suffering with the loss of St. Vincent’s Hospital.

New York State Assemblymember Richard Gottfried approached the microphone — noting that although he was pleased the developers are proposing to improve the playgrounds rather than tear them down, “I do want NYCHA and HPD to know that I am still angry about what they did on this. Somebody in NYCHA or HPD made a conscious decision to submit this certification for ULURP without doing what many developers do, which is bringing it to the Community Board and maybe some others, before it is submitted. I’d like to know who made that decision.”

The greatest, and newest, concern relating to the Fulton project was the proposed relocation of the trash compactor from its spot on the NYCHA parking lot that is the site of the proposed building, to a parking lot on West 19th Street where it will abut residences at 422 West 20th Street. This brought out the property manager of 422 West 20th Street, six residents and Joon Kim, a lawyer from Strook & Strook & Lavan who represents the board of the building. They all spoke passionately about concerns of odor, vermin, noise from trash pickups and the risk of it being a public health hazard for families and children who attend a daycare center (whose windows are facing the planned compactor location). Everyone wanted the compactor relocated.

Johnson, although not voting, voiced his opposition to the entire Fulton Affordable Housing project. He felt that CB4 has done its best to figure out a way for the project to work for the community, but he has many concerns, which he named: 1) Residents at Fulton Houses are not being given any give-backs to improve or repair their buildings; 2) The project is being constructed using nonunion workers; 3) There is not a real plan for the trash compactor; 4) The project has been rushed through ULURP; and 5) Although the project provides some affordable housing to some people of moderate and middle income, he does not think it does enough for Fulton residents and other residents in the community.

Carol Demech of Fulton Houses, standing with four residents of Selis Manor for the visually impaired and blind (on West 23rd Street, between Sixth & Seventh), presented a troubling situation. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has placed silver benches around the city, one at the entrance to Selis Manor. “A lot of vagrants hang out there,” she said, “they spit on the blind residents who are afraid to walk their dogs at night.” She had contacted the DOT but could not learn who had approved the placement. Each resident spoke.

Mary Quest, who held the harness of her black seeing-eye dog, said that the vagrants urinate, vomit, drink liquor, sleep and eat on the bench. “My dog has to go out at night and I’m really afraid to take him out,” she said. Another resident named Roslyn explained that the bench is against the wall, and the walls are used as guides for those who cannot see. “Common sense should tell you not to put a bench against a wall when people who are blind are going to use it to guide themselves.” CB4 member Christine Berthet advised the residents to take up the issue with the CB4 Transportation Committee on September 18.

Other community residents who were advised to contact the CB4 Transportation Committee had issues with the need for more M11 buses and the difficulty of using paper tickets for boarding Select Buses.

Ben Joseph of Related Companies announced that the developer’s building on the southwest corner of West 30th Street and 10th Avenue will be ready for occupancy during the first quarter of 2014. The 34-story building will have 390 apartments and 20 percent of them are designated for low-income tenants. “That’s 70 units that are available,” he said, “and we’re here to encourage people in the community to apply for those units.” The modern building is designed by Robert Stern Architects. It is smoke-free, but pet-friendly. Application information can be found on the CB4 website (nyc.gov/mcb4).

Will Rogers representing the Council of Chelsea Block Associations (CCBA) voiced strong objections to the State Liquor Authority (SLA) application by the Gem Hotel (300 West 22nd Street, at Eighth) for a wine and beer license for its rooftop. At present, guests of the hotel use the roof but the Gem wants a license to allow public access for 52 people on the roof, with a standup bar, five tables and 41 seats within the property line. The Gem roof is bordered by residential buildings with windows facing it. “There are a number of quality of life issues,” said Rogers, “The CCBA decision is that the roof deck is not the place to have music, either amplified or unamplified. Sipping wine is okay, but having promotional and private parties, which Gem wants to do, is not. Past experience has shown us that this results in a reduced quality of life for the neighborhood.” Two others who spoke in opposition to the Gem rooftop license were Zazel Loven, co-chair of the 300 West 21st, 22nd, 23rd Street Block Association and Chelsea resident Phyllis Weitzman. The Gem Hotel application was on the agenda for discussion in the business portion of the meeting.

Regarding other items on the agenda to be voted on by the board, Weitzman spoke in support of an outdoor café for the Chelsea Square restaurant (368 West 23rd Street, an Ninth). Sean Burger requested support for the planned 736 10th Avenue Café in the former Druids bar location and Michael Paternact, for the relocation of the Ha! Comedy Club from West 44th Street to 358 West 46th Street. Bob Minor of the 50/51 Block Association spoke of neighborhood concern over the use of the backyard in the soon to be open 736 10th Ave. Café, but was assured by Burger that there would be no outside patio, no front patio, no French windows and no French doors.

Bill McCracken, with signed petitions, voiced opposition to allowing a liquor license for Cuban Star (150 West 26th Street, between Sixth & Seventh), since the neighborhood is oversaturated with licensed establishments, and there is no venting system or noise control. On a positive note, Toro restaurant (soon to open at West 15th Street & 11th Avenue) is accepting applications for a wide variety of jobs and wants to hire from the CB4 community. For information, contact toronycjobs@gmail.com.

Two tech announcements were made. Jody Bell announced availability of the Yplan app to New Yorkers, and requested participation from local businesses interested in listing events. The app offers a choice of events taking place in the city, allows you to select them up to 48 hours in advance, and buy tickets up to two hours in advance. For more information: yplanapp.com. Another app announcement for New Yorkers was made by Nick Sink for Next Door (nextdoor.com). Mayor Bloomberg showed interest in Next Door after Hurricane Sandy because it is a social networking app that brings neighbors together to discuss local issues and share information.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman thanked the CB4 board for its letter to Empire State Development in regard to the Bayview prison closing. He reiterated his goal, along with other electeds, to have affordable housing included in Bayview’s redevelopment. With the recent rise in LGBT and anti-Semitic violence, Hoylman has also called for a re-visiting of the New York State Hate Crimes Statute to explore better methods of enforcement. In addition, on Thursday, October 3 (at SVA Theatre, 333 West 23rd Street, between Eighth & Ninth), Hoylman is hosting “Fracknomics: Debunking The Financial Myths of Fracking” — a presentation by Deborah Rogers, Founder of Energy Policy Forum, which Hoylman invited everyone to attend.

David Chyzyk, representing Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, announced Stringer’s conditional approval of the East Midtown Rezoning, a first step leading to new skyscrapers being built in the Grand Central Terminal area. Chyzyk said that Stringer wants to know more about the proposed infrastructure and how the area’s historical integrity will be maintained. Stringer also released “New York’s Digital Deficit–An Investigation of Slow Internet Speeds In Public Schools and Libraries,” and is making recommendations to address this issue.

Funsho Owolabi announced that New York State Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal would be hosting her annual “Free Breast Cancer Screening Van” in partnership with the American-Italian Cancer Foundation. Women over age 40 who have not had a mammogram in the last 12 months may come for a “no fee or insurance required” screening on Friday, October 5 in front of the district office at 23 West 72nd Street. For an appointment, call 212-873-6368

Rosenthal has also sponsored legislation requiring labeling for genetically modified (GMO) foods, and is actively pursuing this goal. In addition, she is pursuing the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) to reduce noise pollution by reducing the weekend and late-night hours of construction in the city.

The CB4 district manager’s and chair’s reports were waived for the evening. Johnson announced that the CB4 board elections for certain officer positions would be held in December and anyone interested should contact the nominating committee chair, Betty Macintosh. Johnson then turned the meeting over to Lee Compton for discussion and voting on the board’s recommendations for the Fulton Affordable Housing project to be included in the letter to the CPC.

Compton addressed the fact that the greatest concern to the community at this evening’s meeting was the location of the trash compactor, which was not part of the ULURP application that CB4 was responding to in its letter. “The dumpster is NYCHA property and NYCHA has a right to move things around as it sees fit,” he said. “The letter before you is to ask that NYCHA and Artimus work with the neighbors and the community board to find an appropriate site that has the least possible impact on neighboring buildings, but again, this has nothing to do with zoning, trees or parking.”

The CB4 letter had been written as a recommendation for “approval with conditions” such as a task force of Artimus, CB4, Fulton Houses Tenants Association, and local electeds to work together on the playground improvements, community facility and other aspects of the project. An effort to employ Fulton Houses residents was also a priority. The discussion among CB4 members covered a wide range of issues: the need for give-backs to Fulton Houses for improvements, the question of what is truly “affordable housing,” the breakdown of units available to different levels of AMI, clarification of the employment of Fulton and other CB4 residents during construction, the amount of improvement the developer is willing to undertake for the playgrounds and a request for the developer to maintain the areas, speed bumps, bicycle storage, concern about the pet ban, the need for three-bedroom units which are absent from the plan, the possibility of the developer offering financial incentives and for a health related facility. It was also agreed that the trash compactor had to be addressed more strongly. Pamela Wolff, of CB4’s Landmarks Committee, offered to look into whether the proposed relocation would infringe on a landmarked area.

After lengthy discussion, the board voted to change the wording of the letter from a recommendation for “approval with” to “deny unless” certain conditions were met. The board agreed that the approval of the zoning changes and waivers would stand — but the letter would be reworked with stronger language to convey the board’s concerns. CB4 wants the playground maintenance by the developer to be significant, and there should be a 25 — not 20 — percent preference for NYCHA residents, as well as a minimum percentage of three-bedroom apartments. Also, the pet ban was undesirable, significant community employment should be undertaken and the planned relocation of the trash compactor was unacceptable. The letter would be sent to CPC by the September 16 deadline.

Johnson returned to conduct votes on nine other items, mostly SLA licensing issues. In-depth discussion involved the Gem Hotel’s application for a wine and beer license for a rooftop bar and possible restaurant, open to the public and serving 52 people. CB4’s Paul Seres suggested better stipulations were needed in the board’s letter to the SLA. Pamela Wolff also noted that the Gem had contacted the management of the adjacent building but not the residents themselves. It was decided that the letter be sent back to committee. Three hours after it was called to order, CB4’s full board meeting was adjourned.