CB4 Gets Grand View of Affordable Housing Project

BY EILEEN STUKANE  |  Innovation was on the table, at 2014’s first full board meeting of Community Board 4 (CB4). Each seated board member was clearly identified by a paper name plate (with chairs of committees noted), allowing everyone to know who was speaking. In this small way, the January 6 meeting (held at the Hotel Trades Council headquarters, on West 44th Street) already bore the mark of new chair Christine Berthet — whose aim is to make CB4 more approachable to residents of the community. She would later name three new CB4 Task Forces, designated as Outreach, Openness and Best Practices For Chairs.

The big news, however, was the presentation of a proposed new development project offering 210 affordable housing units — a highly unusual 39 percent of the project on West 52nd and 53rd Streets between 10th and 11th Avenues in Hell’s Kitchen.

A joint venture between Clinton Housing Development Company (CHDC) with Taconic Investment Partners and Ritterman Capital is combining new construction and renovation for three buildings: a 14-story building with 80 percent market rate rentals (324 units) and 20 percent (81 units) at affordable housing rates as well as a 12-story building with 100 percent (103 units) at affordable housing rates — and then, a renovated five-story building (called Captain Post) with 100 percent (22 units) at affordable rates. This proposal, the culmination of nearly 40 years of work in the Clinton Urban Renewal Area (CURA), also represents about three years of work with Taconic/Ritterman to build hundreds of affordable housing units on this site, said Joe Restuccia, CHDC’s executive director. The pet-friendly project also includes three community gardens, a rooftop open space and a children’s play area. Taconic/Ritterman’s new building on West 52nd Street will have a graduated-step-like design to prevent shadowing on the existing DeWitt Clinton Park.

Construction is targeted to begin in the second quarter of 2014 and continue for 18 months. But before anything happens, the project must go through the City Planning Commission’s (CPC) Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for approval. The developers are requesting a number of zoning changes. However, CB4 is in full support.

What especially appeals to CB4 is the affordability of the rental apartments. Restuccia reported that the affordable rate apartments will serve a single person making a yearly income from $24,000 to $99,000, up to a family of four earning from $34,000 to $141,000. Rents will range from $581 to $2,000 for a studio, $622 to $2,500 for a two-bedroom and $863 to $3,560 for a three-bedroom. The project is also subsidizing the renovation of a 464 West 25th Street at 10th Avenue, a four-story building to be converted into five stories. Designed to serve working people earning about $50,000 a year, the building will have four two-bedroom, full-floor apartments with an elevator opening into each residence. “We are serving the largest range in our community ever done to date, and we’re very happy to do this,” said Restuccia, “It means that people will not be knocked out of the box for making too few dollars or slightly over.”

Under the CURA plan, two businesses, Cybert Tire and LeNoble Lumber, years ago had reached an agreement with the city to relocate away from their Hell’s Kitchen addresses and return after the area had undergone a renewal.  Cybert Tire will have a new home in the Taconic/Ritterman building.  Matt Dienstag, owner of LeNoble Lumber, citing the changed neighborhood as “not being appropriate for tractor trailers and forklifts anymore,” has partnered with a real estate team to lease his space to a supermarket. After consulting with community residents, it became clear that a reasonably priced supermarket (not a coop market, not a Whole Foods) was greatly desired. The entire project was warmly received by community residents in attendance. Later in the evening, CB4’s letter of recommendation to the CPC was approved by board members. Joe Restuccia, also a CB4 board member, excused himself from the vote.

Photo by Eileen Stukane This proposed development project has Clinton Housing Development Company partnering with Taconic/Ritterman, for a trio of buildings — two of which have 100% affordable housing.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
This proposed development project has Clinton Housing Development Company partnering with Taconic/Ritterman, for a trio of buildings — two of which have 100% affordable housing.

Explaining that he had heard from the local police precinct, CB4 board member and representative of the West 47/48th Street Block Association, Jean-Daniel Noland announced the scheduled arrival of the Bud Light Hotel cruise ship on Super Bowl weekend. The 4,028 capacity Norwegian Getaway cruise ship has been renamed the Bud Light Hotel for Super Bowl weekend, from January 30 to February 2. The floating beerfest will be docked at Pier 88, at West 48th Street and 12th Avenue, for four nights of parties and concerts, which will also take place in the parking lot opposite the Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Sponsors hosting individual evening events include EA Sports, Pandora and Pepsi Tailgate. Among the live groups performing are The Roots with Run DMC and Busta Rhymes, Imagine Dragons, Foo Fighters, Fall Out Boy and Jake Owen.

Berthet found it disturbing that CB4 had not been notified by the New York City Department of Economic Development, since the board, with the help of Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, recently had to work with the agency to require stipulations for the Pier of Fear, a Halloween event on Piers 92 and 94 (West 53rd to 54th Streets) that was scheduled for five days but reduced to three due to noise levels and quality of life issues experienced by local residents.

After that negotiation, Rosenthal had asked that stipulations from the Pier of Fear negotiations remain in effect for future parties, and that some of the revenue from events be shared with the Hudson River Park Trust.  It was unclear whether any reference to the Pier of Fear stipulations regarding noise and scheduling of events had been made for the Bud Light Hotel.

Noland said that local residents were “concerned about the diversion of our fire people, our police officers, as well as the noise that will irritate people.” Rosenthal’s  representative at the meeting acknowledged that the Assemblymember would be ready to get involved again, and Berthet crafted a letter regarding needed notification, sound, and size of the event, for the board to send to the Department of Transportation, the NYPD, and the Department of Economic Development.

Photo by Photo by William Alatriste/New York City Council Javier Morgado (center), former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen and Councilmember Corey Johnson (right) gather at City Hall to advocate for better emergency protocols in high-rise buildings.
Photo by Photo by William Alatriste/New York City Council
Javier Morgado (center), former Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen and Councilmember Corey Johnson (right) gather at City Hall to advocate for better emergency protocols in high-rise buildings.

In his district manager’s report, Bob Benfatto announced that he was informed by Related Companies that for the next six months, those living and working in the Hudson Yards development area should brace for the noise and vibration of four short blasts on weekdays, Monday to Friday, occurring at some point between 9am to 4pm. The explosions are excavating for the Gateway Project, two concrete tunnels that will allow increased train travel between New York’s Penn Station and Newark New Jersey. The blasts will be monitored by an on-site crew.

Speaking for a new group called The Neighborhood Task Force for Business Planning, under the auspices of the Hell’s Kitchen Neighborhood Association, Tom Cayler called for a need for diversity in the retail stores and services available in CB4. “As soon as a storefront becomes vacant, then we see a new application for a liquor license come in and we find that we are losing the great variety of services and retail businesses,” he said.

The goal of the Task Force would be to create diversity by seeking enforcement of the State Liquor Authority’s 500-Foot Law, which states that an applicant for a liquor selling business cannot be considered if there are three other premises selling liquor within a 500-foot radius. Cayler referred to a new liquor license being applied for on West 46th Street and Ninth Avenue, and stated that there were nine liquor-serving establishments nearby, seemingly within 500 feet. This 500-foot law was also referred to in later discussions of CB4’s letters of recommendation or denial of SLA licenses for new applicants in the community. According to Paul Seres, co-chair of CB4’s Business License & Permits Committee, this law is difficult to enforce.

A common theme among CB4 residents during the monthly meetings is the oversaturation of sports bars and clubs on the streets of Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Mentioned specifically, this time, was Splosh (on Eighth Avenue near 18th Street), a self-described “Bar & Lounge, Café, Sexy Boutique” that is seeking a liquor license and World of Beer, an applicant for a sports bar of 250 capacity with 25 TVs (located on the corner of West 26th Street and 10th Avenue).

CB4’s 2nd Vice Chair, Delores Rubin, spoke of the need for 3,000 volunteers to spread out among the five boroughs, and walk block to block on January 27th (from 10pm to 4am) for HOPE — the Homeless Outreach Population Estimate conducted by the New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS). Rubin, who volunteers for HOPE every year, described it as a wonderful, spirited project that one should undertake with a friend to shorten the long night hours. The yearly survey of homeless individuals helps provide the necessary numbers for resources and housing options. For more information, or to register for the 2014 HOPE survey, click on the “HOPE logo” on the DHS homepage, or visit nyc.gov/hope/welcome.aspx.

Photo by Eileen Stukane Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, spoke about her initiative to put more IT people at the disposal of community boards.
Photo by Eileen Stukane
Gale Brewer, Manhattan Borough President, spoke about her initiative to put more IT people at the disposal of community boards.

Three newly elected officials personally visited the CB4 meeting to start the year. CB4’s City Councilmember Corey Johnson of District 3, reported that faulty wiring and a power strip were the sources of a January 5 fire on the 20th floor of The Strand (on West 43rd Street and 10th Avenue), which claimed the life of 27-year-old Daniel McClung and critically injured his 32-year-old husband Michael Todd Cohen. The couple was overcome by smoke, while attempting to escape by way of an emergency stairwell (as opposed to staying in the apartment of their fireproof building and awaiting further instructions, which was the correct protocol for that particular incident).

On January 13, Johnson stood on the steps of City Hall with a group including Cohen’s mother, former FDNY Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, Assemblymember Richard Gottfried and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. In proposing legislation to add emergency communication systems to high-rise buildings, Councilmember Johnson noted, “The tragic death at The Strand was entirely preventable. The legislation I’m proposing will require buildings higher than six stories to have Emergency Communication Systems in stairwells, which could inform residents to either ‘stay or go.’ ”

City Councilmember Helen Rosenthal of District 6 expressed her interest in working with CB4 on land use issues throughout the year. Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer once more emphasized her technology initiative, putting IT people at the disposal of community boards, to help collect and organize the board’s data for increased efficiency in planning.

David Baily, liaison for New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat, announced that in response to last year’s motorcycle attack on the West Side Highway, the Senator along with Assemblymember Rosa introduced four bills that would require motorcycle groups of 50 or more to register with the NYPD for a permit. Also penalties on attacks by motorcyclists would be increased, and it would be illegal for bikers to do stunt riding in traffic. In addition, Espaillat is promoting the DREAM Act for New York, especially in regard to making the Tuition Assistance Program available to every New York student who wants to go to college, regardless of his or her place of birth. This aspect of the DREAM Act has also been endorsed by Assemblymember Richard Gottfried.

New York State Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Gottfried attended the opening on December 12th of Teresa’s Park (on West 39th Street, just east of 10th Avenue). Named in honor of the late Teresa Mattia, the park, a neglected area known as the Bird, was resurrected as a lovely refuge thanks to neighborhood residents, with help from small businesses, local elected officials and the Port Authority. It is one of the “key” parks in the community — green gardens and open spaces that are gated but can be opened with one key, available to all residents of CB4 from the community board.

Representing Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Tricia Shimamura announced that the Congresswoman had introduced bipartisan legislation with Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Mississippi, for the creation of a Women’s History Museum. There is currently no museum that identifies women’s contributions to our nation’s history.

Votes on the evening’s agenda items were easily dispatched and CB4 adjourned not too far from Berthet’s goal of 9pm.