Opposition to West 108th Street Development Escalates

Three land parcels, currently housing parking garages wold be added to the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s Valley Lodge on West 108th Street under the group's proposal. | WSFSSH
Three land parcels, currently housing parking garages wold be added to the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s Valley Lodge on West 108th Street under the group’s proposal. | WSFSSH

BY JACKSON CHEN | Opponents of a nonprofit organization’s plans to create an affordable housing complex on West 108th Street have stepped up their efforts with their release of an online petition and by retaining an attorney.

Save Manhattan Valley was formed to counter the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s proposal for its Valley Lodge location at 149 West 108th Street. According to WSFSSH’s plans, it would demolish its current transitional homeless shelter there as well as three neighboring city-owned garages in order to construct a seven-to-11-story complex of about 250 affordable housing units and 110 transitional beds.

However, the Save Manhattan Valley activists argue that the removal of the parking garages and the construction to follow would lead to significant adverse effects on the surrounding neighborhood. Even after WSFSSH announced in June that it would allow the easternmost garage of about 125 spaces to be maintained for five years beyond the start of construction — to address concerns about the loss of neighborhood parking — the opposition is still not satisfied.

“There’s a pattern here,” Glory Ann Kerstein, a founding member of Save Manhattan Valley, said. “Things are being thrust upon local communities without the city assessing or studying the consequences.”

Save Manhattan Valley has consistently raised concerns about more traffic congestion and idling cars as hundreds of garage spaces are removed. There are also worries about environmental hazards and the bypassing of zoning regulations in the neighborhood related to the construction of the new housing.

To bolster its efforts, the opposition group has begun circulating its petition online on its new website at savemanhattanvalley.org. To date, the group has gotten 600 signatures by canvassing the neighborhood with paper copies of the petition. With the help of an online social media presence, Kerstein said Save Manhattan Valley is aiming for a total of up to 2,000 signatures that it hopes will grab the attention of local politicians.

The group has also retained Michael Hiller, an attorney with a history of fighting against developments that communities consider unfair. While Save Manhattan Valley has raised the seed money to hire Hiller, it is looking for donations totaling $50,000, a cost the opponents said they estimated based on the legal costs of other land use battles.

“He’ll take on a case if he feels it’s deserved,” Kerstein said of Hiller. “He’s against poorly planned developments, and that’s our issue.”

Hiller explained that he’s aiming to ensure more collaboration among WSFSSH, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, and the community.

“This is another example of the de Blasio administration supporting a project against the wishes of the people who would be most directly affected,” Hiller said.

The attorney added that the city should instead look to thousands of unused and available affordable housing units that currently exist throughout the city before constructing a complex in a community where serious concerns have been raised.

“Until the city utilizes the resources it has,” Hiller said, “it should not be upending communities, specifically without regards to the impacts.”

As for WSFSSH, the agency maintains it continues to work with its architects, the city, and elected officials to address all the concerns that have been brought up in the previous public meetings.

According to Ariel Krasnow, WSFSSH’s senior project manager for real estate development, the organization has been in contact with many groups, including Save Manhattan Valley.

“We have already made changes based on [Save] Manhattan Valley’s comments,” Krasnow said. “We’re happy to work with them and have them work with us.”

She added that WSFSSH is willing to meeting with the opponents again in the fall, but has not yet been directly contacted by the group.

“We’ll be back with more talking to community groups and the community board and getting to a better place where everyone’s happier with the project,” Krasnow said, noting that the city review process has been pushed back due to her group’s efforts to address community concerns.