public housing

NYCHA Scraps East Side Tower Plan in Face of Boro Prez Lawsuit

This playground a Holmes Towers would be leveled so that private housing could be built.
This playground at Holmes Towers would be leveled so that private housing could be built. Photo: Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

A controversial plan to build a new private residential tower at a public housing complex is back to square one on the Upper East Side — but even more market-rate housing is on the way.

Housing officials are scrapping the current design by Fetner Properties for a 50-story building at the Holmes Towers complex in Yorkville in order to “redraw and redo,” New York City Housing Authority Chair Kathryn Garcia told THE CITY.

Their goal is to allow more market-rate apartments on the site in an effort to raise more money for the cash-strapped Housing Authority.

“We will re-engage with the residents regarding all of the tools that we have … to drive as much investment into Holmes as we possibly can,” Garcia said on Friday.

The now-shelved plan, first announced in 2017, would have had Fetner Properties paying the authority an up-front $25 million in funds committed to making much-needed repairs at the Holmes complex.

Under that scheme, half of the apartments in the new tower would have been market-rate and the other half subsidized for households making less than 60% of the area’s median income, or about $57,660 for a three-person household.

Now, Garcia says, the new plan will have closer to 70% market-rate apartments and 30% subsidized apartments. The complex would still get money for repairs — hopefully, a lot more than $25 million, she said — and all of the cash raised would go only to the Holmes Towers.

According to NYCHA’s most recent assessment, the two towers at Holmes, built in 1969, need about $36 million worth of repairs immediately, with more than $100 million needed over the next 20 years.

Legal Battle Pending

From the moment it was announced, the Holmes Towers project has drawn the ire of residents and local elected officials — including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, who sued earlier this spring to challenge the Fetner deal.

Now, NYCHA is hoping the borough president drops the lawsuit, which demands the development go through the city’s land use review process.

Housing Authority attorneys moved to dismiss the case in a filing made Friday, court records show.

The Holmes Towers public housing complex in Yorkville, on April 18, 2019.
The Holmes Towers public housing complex in Yorkville, on April 18, 2019. Photo: Rachel Holliday Smith/THE CITY

“We thought that having this particular legal contest — it just wasn’t appropriate,” Garcia said. “This wasn’t the deal we were going to move forward with. We’ve known that for a while. It didn’t make sense to go to court with a deal we don’t intend to build.”

Garcia said it was too early to tell if the new plan would need a public land-use review.

NYCHA said they were in touch with Brewer about the court action and hopes to work with her to find a resolution.

Through a spokesperson, Brewer declined to comment.

Though the change in plans will throw into question many aspects of the project — including how tall it will end up being, the precise number of affordable units it will include and what exactly Holmes residents will get out of it — the developer will remain the same. Garcia said Fetner is still NYCHA’s chosen partner on the project and will continue working with the firm.

A spokesperson for Fetner said the group remains committed to working with NYCHA “to advance a project at this site to deliver new affordable housing, open space and much-needed funds for public housing infrastructure.”

‘No Truth to What They Say’

At the complex itself, reaction ranged from skeptical optimism to downright anger.

Greg Morris, president of the complex’s community center, said in a statement he hoped the project would go through public review — but acknowledged NYCHA’s reset is “a reasonable first step in acknowledging the numerous concerns of the community.”

Lakeesha Taylor, a longtime Holmes Towers resident who lives there with her two sons, was less diplomatic. After years of talk and promises from the housing authority and developer, she sees no reason to trust NYCHA, or Fetner.

“There’s no truth to what they say,” said Taylor. “What they’re going to do is what they always do — they’re going to give you a little bit of money, and NYCHA’s going to waste it.”

The new direction at Holmes Towers follows a series of major changes outlined in December in a plan the authority calls NYCHA 2.0.

Released as NYCHA went down to the wire in settlement talks with federal officials who’d sued over mismanagement and deplorable building conditions, the plan aims to plug huge budget holes at NYCHA with funds raised in part by allowing private development on public land.

NYCHA 2.0’s development scheme followed a 2015 plan called NextGen NYCHA, which also looked to generate revenue from real estate development and resulted in the Holmes Tower project.

While Holmes Towers goes back to the drawing board, other NYCHA market-rate development projects are inching ahead — or stalled out.

In Hell’s Kitchen, a 14-year-old plan to build a new tower at Harborview Terrace was quietly shelved earlier this spring. On the Lower East Side, NYCHA is hoping to add more market-rate housing to a plan to build on land at the LaGuardia Houses. NYCHA is also speaking with community residents about plans to demolish and rebuild public housing towers at the Fulton Houses in Chelsea.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn, a plan to build a private residential building at the Wyckoff Gardens complex in Boerum Hill is pending. Garcia said that project — and all that fall under the NYCHA 2.0 initiative — are being reevaluated.

“We’re definitely looking at everything with a fresh set of eyes,” she said.

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