City Hall, October 7, 2008 – At today’s Stated Council meeting, the members of the City Council will vote on legislation requiring the Department of City Planning to file a waterfront plan every ten years as well as land use legislation approving a 1.7 million-square-foot, mixed-use development in East Harlem . The Council will also vote to modify previous enhancements to the J-51 tax benefit program to include the Penn South residential community into the program.


In an effort to ensure a regular and orderly review of New York City’s waterfront, the Council will vote on legislation that will require the Department of City Planning to file a waterfront plan every ten years. This plan will include an assessment of waterfront resources, a statement of the planning policy of the commission and proposals for implementing the planning policy of the commission. New York City has 578 miles of waterfront, comprising approximately 17% of the state’s total coastline, and 38% of the total coastal population.

“With the introduction of this legislation today, we will ensure that New York City never turns its back on the waterfront,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “A comprehensive plan provided to the City every ten years will allow us to best assess the different ways our waterfronts can be used for leisure, employment, and industry.”

“The New York City waterfront is one of our greatest resources, providing recreation, transportation, and open space,” said Council Member Michael Nelson, Chair of the Waterfront Committee. “This legislation will make sure we always have a comprehensive, up to-date-plan that reflects the changing needs of our waterfront.”


The Council will vote to approve land use zoning for a 1.7 million-square-foot, mixed-use development on three unused land parcels in East Harlem. As part of a City-selected seven-group development partnership, the $700 million East Harlem Media/Entertainment/Cultural Center (East Harlem M/E/C) will include 30,000 square feet of community and cultural space, 600 affordable housing units, a public plaza, new office and retail space and a hotel. It will also create 1,500 permanent jobs and 4,000 construction jobs.

“Today’s vote marks another great step forward in protecting Harlem’s 125th Street as a cultural and commercial corridor in Upper Manhattan,” said Speaker Quinn. “This is an extraordinary example of community and inter-governmental planning at its best. Together, Council member Melissa Mark Viverito, EDC, HPD, and the East 125th Street Task Force worked tremendously hard to shape community goals and sustain the area’s economic vitality for years to come.”

“The community-based planning process that I and the East 125th Street Development Task Force have been a part of for the better part of a year has resulted in a development process more responsive to community needs than what had been originally proposed,” said Council member Melissa Mark Viverito. “I would like to thank Mayor Bloomberg and his administration for his willingness to re-engage us as a community in this process. The administration’s agreement to ensuring that the community benefits outlined in the points of agreement letter are incorporated in the contract of sale between the City of New York and the designated development team will result in a project that is aimed at respecting the community’s vision while providing housing opportunities and living wage jobs that will provide stability to existing members of our community.”

Other features of the project include:

• 30,000 square feet of cultural space

• Approximately 850 total housing units, a minimum of 600 of which will be permanently affordable to individuals or families with moderate or middle incomes;

• A mid-block public plaza;

• 24,000 square feet of landscaped open space;

• 50,000 square feet of retail space reserved for locally-owned businesses at below market rents.

• 250,000 square feet of office space;

• A 98,000-square-foot hotel.

The three-parcel site is generally bounded by 127th Street to the north, 125th Street to the south, Second Avenue to the east and Third Avenue to the west. The City controls more than 82% of the site and is in discussions with private parcel owners to acquire the remainder of the site. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority owns a small parcel on the northeast corner.


The Council will vote on legislation that will modify previous enhancements to the J-51 tax benefit program to include the Penn South residential community into the program. J-51 benefits are only available if the assessed value of each apartment is less than $40,000. Earlier this year, Penn South’s assessed value went above that limit, mainly because of rising property values. But because of Penn South’s strong “limited equity” policy – repeatedly renewed by the residents – it remains affordable housing despite its higher assessed value.

“For over 50 years, the J-51 tax benefit program has been a valuable tool in maintaining the character of our communities,” said Speaker Quinn. “By including Penn South in the J-51 program, we are taking the important step of preserving a community that is and will remain a source of affordable housing for thousands of residents.”

“Penn South is exactly the kind of development that should be protected under the J-51 Program,” said Housing and Building Committee Chair Erik Martin-Dilan. “Extending the J-51 program so that homeowners can make significant improvements to their properties without the tax burden that comes along with the improvements is a common sense way to preserve our neighborhoods.”

Under the J-51 program, if the owner of an apartment building makes capital improvements that would ordinarily increase the assessed value of the building, the building does not have to pay property tax on that increased value. State and City law target J-51 benefits to affordable housing, so high-priced housing is not subsidized.

To maintain the development’s affordability and eligibility for J-51 benefits, the bill would exempt Penn South as long as it preserves its limited equity rules. Penn South Houses is the only development in the City to which this bill applies.