A group opposed to adding an affordable housing development to an existing transitional homeless shelter on West 108th Street has released an environmental study of adverse impacts it says the project would bring.
Save Manhattan Valley (SMV) maintains that the proposal for 250 units of affordable housing and an increase to 110 transitional homeless shelter beds would be detrimental to the neighborhood. The project’s sponsor, the West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH), a non-profit group, currently operates 92 transitional beds at the site at 149 West 108th Street.
To facilitate the project, WSFSSH needs to demolish three adjacent city-owned garages to make space for their development. While SMV claims that many have boiled down the issue to “people versus parking,” the group argues that much more is at risk, including the community’s quality of life and the safety of those nearby. In response to WSFSSH’s plans, SMV retained Michael Hiller, an attorney known for representing residential opposition to major developments, who in turn hired GHD Services, an engineering and environmental consulting firm.
GHD completed an environmental study in February and presented its results to SMV in March. The study outlined a number of potential hazards the project could create, including an increased risk of traffic accidents, the release of hazardous materials, and shadow impacts on nearby parks.
According to the study, there are risks that lead, asbestos, and gasoline from storage tanks beneath the existing garages could be released as part of the construction. If the development is completed as is proposed, the study asserted, the reduction of parking spaces would cause more gas emissions and a higher risk for traffic accidents due to more vehicles circling the block.
“If the city is doing its job, this environmental assessment leaves no doubt that the project must be stopped,” Hiller said. “But that assumes the city is acting as an honest and equitable decision maker.”
Meryl Zegarek, a founding member of Save Manhattan Valley, is hoping the environmental study will prompt the city to seriously consider their concerns.
“We’re hoping that it’ll start a discussion about it,” Zegarek said of the study. “I think people in the neighborhood have a right to know what’s going on and have a right to know what’s in the building.”
Hiller circulated the study to many elected officials, including City Councilmember Mark Levine, who contacted Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office about the project on March 21. According to documents received by Manhattan Express, Levine’s email stated he received the environmental study as well as a petition with a large number of signatures and supported the group’s request to meet with the mayor to discuss alternatives.
SMV emphasized that the group has identified 10 alternate project sites throughout the five boroughs that would suit WSFSSH’s needs, including a relatively nearby site at the soon to be emptied P.S. 191 campus at 210 West 61st Street.
“If this project can’t be done so it’s safe, and the height of the building can’t be brought down, and the garage spaces can’t be replaced,” Zegarek said, “maybe this just isn’t the right space for it.”
According to WSFSSH’s executive director, Paul Freitag, the organization is currently working with the city’s Housing Preservation and Development on the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Freitag noted that process would include an environmental review and offer opportunities for public input later in the spring.
“We are proud to count almost 20 neighborhood community organizations and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer as supporters not only of WSFSSH at West 108, but the idea that permanently affordable housing and resources for vulnerable seniors and families are a necessary component of our neighborhood and city,” Freitag said in a written statement.
The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Levine’s email seeking a meeting.
A plan to build an expanded affordable housing complex at 149 West 108th street is drawing protests from local residents, who say the neighborhood already has enough affordable housing, and the new building would be too tall.
PUBLISHED JUN 29, 2016 AT 11:00 AM (UPDATED JUL 1, 2016)
Plans for an 11-story building on 108th Street run up against concerns about hundreds of lost parking spaces.
This story has been corrected to reflect that a Community Board 7 committee has not yet voted on an affordable housing project proposed for West 108th Street.
A plan to expand affordable housing on 149 West 108th Street has been met with complaints from the community, who claim that the area already has enough affordable housing and that the building violates zoning laws.
The proposal by West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing includes 193 units, and would reach a height of 11 stories, despite a zoning law that restricts building height to seven stories. The plans involve demolishing Valley Lodge, the supportive housing unit WSFSSH already manages at that property, and the destruction of three garages with 675 parking spaces.
Save Manhattan Valley, a coalition formed to protest the plans, have listed several concerns about the project, including the zoning issue, the destruction of the parking garages, and the concern that the noise and possible hazards from construction could be disruptive or harmful to the nearby school, Booker T. Washington Middle School.
Glory Ann Kerstein, a founding member of Save Manhattan Valley, said the parking spaces are used by St. Luke's Hospital Workers, the Central Park Medical team, and Columbia University staff and visitors.
“This was done without the community,” said Kerstein.
In an email, she added, “As such, the city of New York and WSFSSH remain unaware of the consequences for the community. Talk with us. Collaborate with us. The community board strives to provide a forum for public input but that cannot substitute for true negotiations with HPD and WSFSSH at a sit down meeting.”
According to Paul Freitag, executive director of WSFSSH, his team has been meeting with different community groups for a couple years, with the most recent push coming last fall.
“We've met with (Save Manhattan Valley) three times in a series of private meetings, in addition to community board meetings.” said Freitag, “All of the three meetings we've had so far have been about information, no action has been taken.”
Meryl Zegarek, also a founder of Save Manhattan Valley, described the community as generally accepting. “It's greatly upsetting when people refer to the issue as affordable housing vs. people,” she said.
In a subsequent email, Zegarek said, “This is poorly planned development vs. people. A lot of older people use those parking spaces. We've walked around and talked to a lot of shop owners who need their cars, a lot of the workers at St. Luke's work odd hours and need a car.”
Their other chief concern is the building's height, which Kerstein said would tower over other buildings in the area and could raise heating bills for buildings caught in the new building's shadow. “Imagine 11 stories, you're not going to be able to see the sun over there,” she said.
Zegarek and Kerstein said that many of the people who use the parking garages need their cars, and the destruction of the garages would take away from one community to give to another. “I just can't imagine what the city was thinking.” Kerstein said, “They're going to vaporize parking for 800 people. Is that good planning? Not for our community use.”
The number of parking spaces that will be destroyed seems to be a source of contention. Save Manhattan Valley says that 800 spaces will be destroyed, while WSFSSH says the number is 675.
The current senior shelter at Valley Lodge has about 92 beds. WSFSSH wants to expand that to 110 beds, in addition to 193 additional units of affordable housing. This would be accomplished in part by the 11-story building, which was met favorably by the committee despite the fact that the building violating existing zoning laws, which Freitag said was because of the “overwhelming need for supportive housing.” An official vote has not taken place however.
Community Board 7 also requested in an open letter to WSFSSH that they “incorporate sufficient data and analysis on how such loss of parking would impact the immediate neighborhood.” WSFSSH did prepare an initial parking study, but the board deemed it inadequate, calling the scope of the study “narrow,” and citing an “obvious absence of any statistics as to the number of available (i.e. unrented) spaces in the neighborhood.” The board's letter also raised questions about environmental impact, the fair share of distribution of social services (Manhattan Valley is home to roughly 50 percent of Manhattans affordable housing already), and environmental impact, echoing the concerns of Save Manhattan Valley.
Freitag said that WSFSSH is not opposed to putting parking underneath the new building, but he noted that the underlying bedrock is quite high, which would result in a costly excavation. In response to the complaint that the Central Park Medical team will not have a place to park, WSFSSH has modified its design to allow three Central Park ambulances to be stored in the building. “Were somebody to generate a viable proposal for putting parking in the building, we would be open to that,” said Freitag.
As for the issue of construction within close proximity to a school, Freitag said the construction would be in compliance with Bill 420, a still-unpassed bill proposed by District 7 Councilman Mark Levine that requires construction be kept at least 75 feet away from a school. “I think the two issues that are often raised are environmental contamination and noise. We would work with our consultants to make sure everything was state of the art to make sure there was no spreading of anything that could in any way be harmful to the school,” he said.
Freitag also said they would be willing to accommodate and work with the school to figure out what hours would work best, such as avoiding construction during testing hours.
West 108th Street Housing Developer Gives Some, But Opponents Remain
June 30, 2016
The Manhattan Express
BY JACKSON CHEN
The Upper West Side nonprofit organization looking to create an affordable housing complex out of its current homeless shelter will hold off on 60 units of senior housing for several years to preserve parking desired by the local community.
West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing’s plans involve the demolition of its current Valley Lodge shelter facility at 149 West 108th Street, which contains 92 transitional beds, and three neighboring city-owned garages to make way for an affordable housing complex of about 250 units and 110 transitional beds.
Opponents of the plan charged that loss of the garages would eliminate 675 parking spaces from a neighborhood where parking is already tight. In response, the nonprofit recently updated its plans to allow the easternmost garage with about 125 parking spaces to be maintained for five years beyond the start of construction.
According to Paul Freitag, WSFSSH’s executive director, the organization is hoping to begin construction next summer and once the five years are up, the decision falls on the city to figure out the disposition of the parking garage left intact.
Freitag explained that in preserving the garage, a portion of the affordable housing complex that would serve roughly 60 senior citizens would be delayed pending the city’s decision at that future date.
WSFSSH is also looking into the costly option of below-grade parking and has provided the operator of the existing garages with all the preliminary information necessary. Freitag said his organization hasn’t yet heard back from the operator.
Concerns raised at Community Board 7 meetings earlier this year also involved the volunteer Central Park Medical Unit, which stores four ambulances in the garages at no cost and would be displaced by the WSFSSH development.
Once the nonprofit organization was made aware of that situation, it reached out to the ambulance unit. Freitag said that the new complex would dedicate a garage for three of the CPMU vehicles and facility space for any courses or programs the ambulance corps conducts.
While the volunteer EMTs are amenable to WSFSSH’s proposal, the unit’s president, Rafael Castellanos, expressed uncertainty about the housing development’s future given the range of concerns raised during community board meetings.
“If this goes through, we’ll be taken care of, which is very nice,” Castellanos said. “How long it will take to go through, will it go through, we just don’t know.”
An opposition group, Save Manhattan Valley, has voiced more than just skepticism and is outright calling for a relocation of the development.
“We are hoping to stop a poorly conceived plan,” Meryl Zegarek, a founding member of Save Manhattan Valley, said. “We don’t know of any other time that WSFSSH and the city have removed a valuable community resource from one segment of the population to aid another segment.”
Zegarek and Glory Ann Kerstein, another founding member of the group, argued that the Manhattan Valley neighborhood already hosts 40 percent of the Upper West Side’s affordable housing units, more than its fair share.
The group also argues that the loss of parking would lead to more circling cars and add to the area’s traffic, air pollution, and safety risks. To alleviate their concerns, Kerstein said her group would like to see more traffic studies done in collaboration with the Department of Transportation as well as an environmental review to gauge how construction would affect the surrounding neighborhood, including M.S. 54, located at the corner of West 108th Street and Columbus Avenue.
And after being told that WSFSSH was “not willing to negotiate” during one of their meetings, Kerstein said that Save Manhattan Valley is formalizing a petition and will be seeking signatures soon.
“Effectively, the community’s voice in this poorly conceived project is being ignored,” Kerstein said.
Freitag, however, contended that in declining to negotiate with Save Manhattan Valley, WSFSSH was simply expressing the goal of engaging the entire community rather than a single opposing group. He said that WSFSSH’s traffic analysts have been working to address questions raised by the community and that an environmental review would be conducted as part of the group’s zoning application.
“We’re trying to be transparent by including all community groups and the community board,” Freitag said. “We’re trying to have this happen in a context that includes all members of the Upper West Side.”
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.”
As my office is the street, I come across situations just by being in the right place at the right time. This time I learned about another issue regarding what is known as an Urban Renewal Project, in a little known area named Manhattan Valley in the 7th City Council District. The City Council website indicates that “Mark Levine is a New York City Councilmember representing the 7th District in Northern Manhattan” but says nothing about Manhattan Valley . . . but of course not, because the age old and successful military strategy of divide and conquer is being used to divide the district into small little pockets for the politicians own agendas. During the gentrification of Hell’s Kitchen by Tom Duane and Christine Quinn, the real estate developers tried to rename the neighborhood “Clinton” to make it more desirable for people with money to rent there as Chelsea was outpriced. They also tried to name parts of the neighborhood “Northern Chelsea” and “Midtown West”, but nothing they tried worked. The evidence is clear because if you walk the neighborhood, most if not all, restaurants proudly display the name Hell’s Kitchen. Those living in City Council District 7 should consider referring to the district as Washington Heights for a number of reasons, especially since Councilmember Mark Levine is permitted by law to select community board members not only for Manhattan Community Board 7 but for Manhattan Community Board 12, too, which includes Inwood.
The rezoning of Inwood that the politicians are beginning with 4650 Broadway includes eliminating hundreds of parking spots. If you have ever tried to park in Inwood, it is already nearly impossible. The same is happening in Manhattan Valley, where three parking garages with 675 parking spaces are at risk of being eliminated as a result of the area becoming part of the Urban Renewal Project for Cathedral Parkway that was established by the City of New York in 1969. But that was then and this is now. With the obvious increase of homelessness now in full view of the public in the borough of Manhattan, sympathies can go out to the proposed affordable housing development by the Westside Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing Group* that would create 280 units of permanent housing and 110 transitional units. However, it would eliminate three parking structures that provide 675 spaces. What about the residents who park their vehicles at these garages, who need them to get to work across the five boroughs and in New Jersey and Connecticut. Where will they be able to park? Would they have to move to another area of the city or out of the city altogether? Or replace the jobs that currently let them support their families and pay taxes? What happened to the concept of securing Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness for those residents? And where would the all-volunteer Central Park Medical Unit park its ambulances, which serve Central Park and surrounding areas and do not fit in most garages? It certainly seems to me that the politicians are misguided in their efforts, focusing narrowly on “affordable housing”, and not seeing the big picture.
When Mayor Bloomberg wanted to institute congestion pricing in New York City, a proposed traffic congestion fee for vehicles traveling into or within the Manhattan central business district of New York City, it failed in Albany and soon thereafter, bicycle lanes and paths and Citi- Bike stations began popping up everywhere, the first ones in Hell’s Kitchen. With the possible elimination of parking spots in both Inwood and Manhattan Valley, it certainly appears that the De Blasio administration is gearing more and more towards the institution of Bloomberg’s congestion pricing fee. And it is using the issue of the lack of affordable housing to assist in its efforts to push through its agenda.; Instead of pushing for more “affordable” housing in the city, why increase the population of a city that is already difficult to manage? Why not address the issues for the population that already exists?
It is therefore strongly suggested that the residents of Inwood and Manhattan Valley band together and fight the politicos together. Read Politicians Planned for Bicycles in HK below. *The West Side Federation for Senior and Supportive Housing (WSFSSH) wants to expand its Valley Lodge location, which will include a mix of studios and one and two-bedroom apartments, but also include room to grow the exiting stock of 92 transitional beds by 18. Valley Lodge is located at 149 West 108th Street and currently functions as a transitional shelter serving that portion of the homeless population aged 50 or older.