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Community Board 3 Panel Opposes Mahfar’s Affordable Housing Plan at 255 East Houston St.

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Attorney Al Schein represented Samy Mahfar before Community Board 3.
Attorney Al Schein represented Samy Mahfar before Community Board 3.

It was another rough night for developer Samy Mahfar at Community Board 3. CB3’s land use committee voted to oppose his application for inclusionary housing at 255 East Houston St., a residential building on the site of a former daycare center.

Mahfar got approval for tax breaks under the 421a program before it expired last year. He also wants to utilize a floor area bonus available to developers who set aside a certain number of units in their projects for affordable housing. In a presentation before the committee last night, attorney Alvin Schein said there would be 88 residential units at 255 East Houston St. Eighteen of those apartments would be reserved for families earning 60% of Area Median Income (AMI).

At one time, Mahfar envisioned putting up a 10-story building on the site, which includes frontages on East Houston as well as Suffolk Street. By taking part in the city’s inclusionary housing program, he hopes to add four stories and eight apartments to the project. The taller building is made possible due to the mayor’s recently enacted zoning scheme (Zoning For Quality & Affordability).

Community board members would normally be enthused about new affordable housing. But as committee vice chair Linda Jones said last night, “there’s an elephant in the room.” She referred to Mahfar’s reputation throughout the Lower East Side for alleged tenant harassment and illegal construction in a handful of tenement buildings controlled by his family.

255 east houston drawings

MyPhuong Chung, land use committee chairperson, said she believed Mahfar should add more affordable units to the building. She said an earlier 13-story version of the project was obviously “financially viable” and will be even more profitable if city agencies approve the enlargement.

Referring to concerns about Mahfar’s treatment of Lower East Side tenants, Schein said, “I don’t know how to respond to that. This is a new building.” He was asked about plans for a shared space at the top of the building. Community board members said they were concerned that it would become a rooftop recreational area. Schein said it wasn’t yet known exactly how the top floor would be used.

cb3 land use

Mahfar had previously tried to change the zoning along a stretch of East Houston Street. That change would have allowed him to put a restaurant or retail business in the ground floor of 255 East Houston St. Right now, the 4500 square foot space can only be used for community facilities (schools, doctor offices, etc.) But in the face of opposition from the community board and City Council member Rosie Mendez, Mahfar withdrew the application. Last night Schein was asked whether his client would pledge not to resubmit the application in the future. He said, “No.”

Board member Enrique Cruz said he saw no reason to approve the inclusionary housing application when Mahfar is already receiving a 421a tax break. Cruz said Mahfar will include affordable housing in his project, with or without the the additional incentives. Schein disagreed, saying, “He will not utilize 421a without the inclusionary housing (bonus).”

The full board will vote on the committee recommendation later this month. The community board will forward an advisory opinion to city agencies.

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