The Harlem African Burial Ground, affordable housing, and commercial space will replace the 126th Street Bus Depot.
On September 27, 2017, City Council approved the 126th Street Bus Depot redevelopment by a vote of 42-0. The land use application, by NYC Economic Development Corporation, includes a zoning map amendment, zoning text amendment, city map change, and future disposition of city-owned property. This action will facilitate the development of affordable housing, commercial space, and the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial. For CityLand’s coverage on the prior stages of the project’s ULURP process, click here.
On September 5, 2017, at the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions meeting, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito described the project’s history. This project is “the culmination of almost a decade of work.” Reverend Patricia Singletary from the Elmendorf Reformed Church wanted “to properly memorialize her church’s historic African burial ground underneath the 126th Street Bus Depot, which had been forgotten, built upon and disrespected for almost 200 years.” Reverend Singletary approached Speaker Mark-Viverito in 2009, who then helped the Reverend form a group of local stakeholders—community members, city agencies, archaeologists, urban planners, architects, historians—to create the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force “to advocate for the reclamation, preservation and recognition of this sacred cemetery.” Speaker Mark-Viverito commended the efforts of Reverend Singletary and the Harlem Burial Ground Task Force, especially in their ability “to persevere when no one believed the history that they had uncovered.”
18,000 square feet in the Harlem African Burial Ground will be accessible to the public. The Harlem African Burial Ground will also contain an outdoor memorial and an indoor cultural educational center, which must be maintained in perpetuity. The City will work with the developer to ensure the memorial’s future through financial commitment. Speaker Mark-Viverito stated, “The developer will be required to provide an annual contribution of approximately $1 million to support eligible operating costs. The indoor and outdoor spaces will be provided to the memorial operator free of charge.” 20% of the housing units, available at market-rate, will also contribute to the cost of the memorial’s operation. The Speaker added, “The commitments being made today will ensure the history that Reverend Singletary and the task force have rediscovered will never be forgotten again.”
The project will also produce affordable housing. The Council modified the zoning text amendment to apply the deep affordability option instead of Option 2 for Mandatory Inclusionary Housing. 80% of the 730 housing units will be affordable. Half of the units will be affordable for households earning up to 60% of the Average Median Income (“AMI”). 20% of all housing units will be affordable for households earning a maximum of 30% AMI ($25,770 annual income).
Lastly, the redevelopment will produce commercial space. The commercial development has been capped at 138,000 square feet to accommodate the affordable housing demand. The developer will be required to support job training, create a targeted hiring outreach plan, and work with the Economic Development Corporation to meet these local hiring goals.
The application with modifications—ensuring 18,000 square feet of public space and amending the zoning text to reach the deepest affordability levels—unanimously passed through both the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions and the Committee on Land Use. The City Council honored the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force at the September 27th meeting for “their stellar service and enduring contributions to East Harlem and all of New York City” before unanimously approving the modified land use applications for the project. The site is integral in honoring the story and culture of those who helped build this City and nation.
CC: 126th Street Bus Depot (LU 0733-2017; LU 0734-2017; LU 0735-2017; LU 0736-2017) (Sept. 27, 2017).
By: Shelby Hoffman (Shelby is the CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2017.)