Around 250 local residents, business owners and members of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown & The Lower East Side met at the future site of a controversial luxury tower and marched to City Hall to protest the construction of Extell’s “Building From Hell.” The rally was a show of support for a rezoning plan being pushed by the Chinatown Working Group as well as a stand against a tax abatement program for developers that opponents say is costing the city millions in revenue.
The new Chinatown building is rumored to be as many as 80 stories tall, though filings with the Department of Buildings from August describe the tower as having 72 stories with 1,020 units. Bowery Boogie found DOB documents online that describe amenities including a squash court, golf simulator, bowling alley, basketball court, Turkish bath, and an 1,874-square-foot lap pool plus accessory kiddie pool.
Proponents of the building argue that it represents progress for the neighborhood, but those contesting the development say the city is spending money on tax breaks for an unnecessary luxury tower when the funds could be better spent on community centers and other services that would benefit the area’s current residents. “Our schools, our senior centers, our libraries and other programs are being cut,” said David Tieu, who spoke at the rally on behalf of the Coalition to Protect Chinatown and the Lower East Side. In his speech, he appealed to Mayor Bill De Blasio. “Yet you continue to to support the 421-a tax subsidiary, which gives billions of dollars each year to luxury developers like Extell to push us out of the neighborhood we built.”
At One57, an Extell luxury building overlooking Central Park, the 421-a tax abatement program reportedly cost the city $65.6 million in property tax revenue. A study found that could have been used to produce 370 affordable housing units.
Sarah Ahn, volunteer organizer for the coalition, said that not only is the group adamantly against the tower but it is also “really appalled” by Extell’s use of the corridor right next door for a much smaller building of affordable housing units, which Extell must build in order to fulfill tax break requirements. There have been rumors of other potential sites for the affordable housing, she said, but “if you look at the projections, there’s the tower and then this little building right door.” There are permits filed for a new 13-story building at 227 Cherry Street. When we called Dattner Architects to inquire about it we were deferred to Ari Goldstein, Vice President of Development at Extell, but he did not return our calls.
The protestors were also marching in support of the “People First Rezoning Plan,” developed by the Chinatown Working Group with the goal of preserving existing low-income housing in the area and protecting the community from future luxury development; in February the Department of City Planning sent a letter to Manhattan Community Board 3 saying the plan is too “far reaching” and “ambitious.”
When it comes to gaining community support for the tower, it doesn’t help the Extell doesn’t necessarily have the best track record for positive interaction with low-income residents. The development firm took some flack from the media regarding its Upper West Side glass tower because the building had separate entrances for its affordable housing units and its luxury units. “They are kind of the pusher of these ideas,” said Ahn. “That kind of segregation of the community is actually very racist. Regardless of the color of skin of the people coming into the community, you know that right now it’s very Latino, very African American and very Chinese, and those are the people who are going to be displaced.”