Monday, March 9, 2015

Plans to Build Three Apartment Towers atop East River Plaza Mall

Harlem’s popular East River Plaza mall could be getting some very tall neighbors. Forest City Ratner and the Blumenfeld Development Group are planning to construct three huge residential buildings atop the East Harlem shopping center located at 520 East 117th Street. The towers would rise 48, 42 and 36 stories with up to 1,100 apartments on the roof of the existing mall. The three building addition would add about 1.1 million square feet to the complex. The developers plan to set aside 25% of the units for affordable housing.

East River Plaza currently houses stores such as Target, Burlington Coat Factory, Old Navy and Costco, but residential development has always been contemplated. The five-story, 500,000 square foot complex, which opened in 2009 was designed and built to support potential residential buildings.

"The infrastructure is there, the property has water views, is next to the FDR Drive and would be an iconic property," said David Blumenfeld, a principal of Blumenfeld Development Group, which owns the mall at 116th Street and the FDR Drive along with Forest City Ratner Companies, one of the city's largest developers.

The underlying zoning of the property is already designated for residential use and would only require a modification of the special permit used to build the retail center.

The project, designed by architect Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos, includes “La Plaza,” which will turn a cobblestone cul-de-sac at E. 118th Street into a community square with cultural and retail space.

The plaza will include public art displays and will also be the main entrance for residents.

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“Affordability will definitely be a part of any residential project at East River Plaza,” said Blumenfeld, adding that the company was looking to do a higher rate of affordable housing than the standard 80 percent market rate and 20 percent affordable split.

The developers have promised about 25% of the units — or 275 — will be set aside for residents who earn 30%-60% of the area median income, which is $18,000 a year for an individual or $52,000 for a family of four.

“We are dedicated to creating a thriving, mixed-income community,” said Melissa Burch, executive vice president of residential and commercial development at Forest City Ratner.

But some in the community aren’t buying it.

“Those buildings are going to shut out all the daylight in the neighborhood,” said a member of the NERVE community housing group. “It’s going to be like a shadow curtain.”

Elsewhere, East Harlem is booming with new, tall residential towers.

Continuum Company is planning two 32-story residential towers at Park Avenue and 125th Street. The $415 million, 600,000-square-foot development will have 650 units.

There's only one way to expand on the island of Manhattan and that's up. When complete, the 48-story tower will top-out at 575 feet, making it the tallest building in the neighborhood— even taller than 1800 Park Avenue.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has said his administration is willing to let developers build higher in exchange for increased affordable units. The mayor has set a goal of building and preserving 200,000 units of affordable housing over the next decade.

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