Apartment Complex's Owner Needs City Council Approval To Add New Residential Housing, More Restaurants And Shopping


NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An iconic apartment complex in Harlem could completely transform.

Developers are proposing adding new buildings and much larger retail to Lenox Terrace. However, some residents are fighting the proposal every step of the way.

On Tuesday, CBS2’s Aundrea Cline-Thomas out about the potential impact the makeover could have on the whole neighborhood.

For 60 years, Lenox Terrace has been a fixture in central Harlem.

“Kool & the Gang was here. Nancy Wilson. All the big shots were here,” resident Gwendolyn Satterfield said.

It was an oasis for African-Americans during a time when housing discrimination was the norm. In the late 1950s, ads called it Harlem’s first community with Park Avenue elegance, complete with 24-hour doormen.

“If you lived in Lenox Terrace, you have arrived,” said former Assemblyman Keith Wright.

Now, the future of the sprawling complex from 132nd to 135th streets between Lenox and Fifth avenues is being reimagined. Five new apartment buildings, along with bigger stores and restaurants, could be added to the property.

“Those new shops would add a whole new dynamic to our living. It’s an upgrade and we deserve that,” said central Harlem resident Angelina Detres.

(credit: Olnick Organization)

That’s if the Olnick Organization gets its way. The developer has been the owner since the beginning.

First, the city council would have to approve rezoning that would allow retail similar to Herald Square.

“Essentially, you’re plopping like a 34th Street right in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” said Lenn Shebar of the group Lenox Terrace Association of Concerned Tenants.

That’s why some current residents are fighting the project that could take at least seven years to build. The new apartments would require a $90,000 salary, which is much higher than current qualifications, although nearly one-third of the new units would be set aside for low-income residents.

“If they come in with what they are proposing it’s going to drive real estate values through the roof around here,” tenant Donald Kennedy said. “People’s rents are going to skyrocket. You’re going to displace basically an entire community.”

For Harlem barber Polo Greene, “I’ve seen a lot of the changes, but the vibe in Harlem is still there.”

He said new development is necessary.

“I think it’s going to be a really good thing for Harlem,” Greene said.

Most of the existing retail spaces are empty. Olnick said it’s hard to find new businesses to move in, but residents said it’s part of Olnick’s strategy to get what it wants.

Inside the building’s crumbling dry wall, buckling shower tiles and leaks are just some of the residents’ complaints. Olnick refused an on-camera interview but promised residents’ maintenance would improve. However, kitchen and bathroom upgrades would only happen if the rezoning proposal is approved.

“They’re not proposals; they’re threats. If you don’t do what we want in our way we’re going to just make sure your life is radically unpleasant,” Kennedy said.

Wright said the impact of redevelopment will have a ripple effect.

“Lenox Terrace has almost become the most emblematic, the most significant last bastion, if you will, of gentrification,” Wright said. “So if Lenox Terrace falls to the gentrification movement, then it becomes like the Wild Wild West.”

But change is coming to Lenox Terrace, whether or not the rezoning proposal is approved.

Olnick plans to move forward with building new apartments, and will only scale back on retail and complex amenities if rezoning isn’t approved. Community Board 10 is scheduled to vote on Wednesday.

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