Representatives of the Chinese American Planning Council (CPC) and the Gotham Organization, a New York City-based developer, outlined plans last night for a huge new project on the site of Beth Hamedrash Hagadol (BHH), the fire-ravaged Norfolk Street synagogue.
During the presentation before Community Board 3’s land use committee, Gotham’s Bryan Kelly said the project at 50-60 Norfolk St. would consist of two towers (10 and 30 stories), 488 apartments (including 188 affordable units), a large new facility for CPC’s social service programs, a new synagogue space for Beth Hamedrash Hagadol and neighborhood retail. We reported many of these details in a story published yesterday.
The most interesting part of last night’s discussion concerned the city’s announcement earlier this week of the Norfolk Street housing plan, and the clumsy/deceptive effort by the mayor’s office to link it to Rivington House.
On Tuesday, the de Blasio administration reneged on a promise made in September of 2016 to create 100 units of senior housing in a new project at 30 Pike St. The commitment had been part of the mayor’s efforts to make up for the bungling of deed restrictions at Rivington House, the former Lower East Side nursing home now in the hands of luxury condo developers.
The unwelcome news was delivered in a press release that also detailed plans to add 60 nursing home beds at Gouverneur Health and to support Gotham’s proposal to create 88 apartments for low-income seniors on Norfolk Street. The press release read, in part, “The affordable homes and health care for seniors fills a commitment made by the Mayor to replace services lost in the wake of the Rivington House nursing home closure in 2015.”
At last night’s meeting, CB3 member Lisa Kaplan said, “We got word day before yesterday that a project that had been promised to us on Pike Street, that the affordable units were now part of (the Norfolk Street project). It looks to me like you were already planning to do senior housing and the project that we were promised on Pike Street just went up in smoke. Tell me that I’m wrong, and why I’m wrong.”
Kelly, Gotham’s executive vice president for development, responded, “I can’t speak to that (Pike Street) development because it’s out of Gotham’s purview, but what I can say is that CPC and Gotham have always talked about the idea of (possibly) including senior affordable housing in our development.”
“Our ability to work out site control with the BHH synagogue has allowed us to identify a footprint where we’re able to create” the senior affordable apartments, said Kelly. Gotham began working with CPC and the synagogue’s leadership before the May 2017 fire that destroyed much of the historic Jewish site. After the fire, they hammered out a proposal for the senior building, incorporating remnants from the burned out synagogue. Gotham has been overseeing the demolition of destabilized portions of the shul.
This past fall, Kelly said, “we were approached by the city to ask whether we would consider an even more robust program for senior affordable housing… City Hall, through the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, has been willing to commit $25-30 million to create 40% affordable housing on this site…” Initially, Gotham and CPC had intended to build 30% affordable housing in the project. The city’s financial commitment, Kelly explained, allowed them to up the affordable component to 40%.
But Alan Gerson, CPC’s attorney, told board members that Rivington House was never brought up by anyone in the administration. “From the very beginning,” said Gerson, “before we selected Gotham, CPC expressed in the Request for Proposals a clear interest and preference in maximizing affordability, including affordability for senior housing.” He added, “We didn’t learn about the change of the Pike Street project until just about when you learned about it. Our negotiation with the city was for maximum support, period, the end.”
At another point, MyPhuong Chung, chair of the land use committee, voiced her own concerns. “I had a huge concern about the Rivington House linkage that the press has been making,” she asserted. “Now I understand that you’re not involved in that and that the city didn’t come to you and say, ‘Hey, in exchange for Rivington House can you up the affordability or increase the units?’”
She then went on to blame the local media for the misconception, ignoring the city administration’s role in disseminating misleading information in its Tuesday press release. “I’m very glad to hear that,” said Chung, “because it’s kind of how the press has been portraying it.”
She concluded by saying, “I just want to make very clear that our community is in dire need of senior housing, and that adding senior housing to any project does not make up for Rivington House. That was a 200-bed skilled nursing facility. That is a totally different loss (beyond) what any senior housing could ever fulfill.”
Other notes from last night’s presentation:
–CPC and Beth Hamedrash Hagadol will own their community spaces. Gotham will have a long-term lease on CPC’s property, but the non-profit organization will retain ownership of that, as well. Lease payments will help support Chinese American Planning Council’s local programs.
–The project will include 20,000 square feet of retail on Broome St. (half at ground level, half in the basement). The developer will not lease space in the project to a big box retailer.
–The developers said historic elements from the synagogue are being removed with care for possible future use. The Landmarks Preservation Commission is overseeing the partial demolition.
–CPC’s 40,000 square foot space will house administrative office plus social service programs. Currently, CPC maintains separate offices on Eldridge and Elizabeth streets.
–Dattner Architects, the same firm behind the senior rental building on Essex Crossing site 6, will be designing the new project. One major goal is activating Broome Street, between Norfolk and Suffolk Street, and essentially making the project “seamless” with the surrounding Essex Crossing buildings.
–The site is currently zoned R-8 and is part of a Large-Scale Residential Development Plan. Gotham is seeking to create a new master plan and upzone the parcel to R-9-1. The proposal must go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, and there will be an environmental review. The Landmarks Commission also must sign off on the development plan.