Council Approves Harlem African Burial Ground

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.” SELRES_7b87e16a-b7e2-4613-9752-ba9d8640fdc6Reverend Patricia Singletary SELRES_7b87e16a-b7e2-4613-9752-ba9d8640fdc6from 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.)


East Harlem Pathmark land sold to make way for luxury apartments – but nonprofit involved in deal says they haven’t seen a dime

In April 2014, a group partially controlled by the Rev. Calvin Butts’ Abyssinian Development Corp. sold the site of a Pathmark supermarket at 125th St. and Lexington Ave. for $39 million to real estate giant Extell Development.Exported.;

Abyssinian completed the sale despite initial opposition from the site’s co-owners — the nonprofit Community Association of the East Harlem Triangle Inc. — and over objections from City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

But 18 months later, Abyssinian has yet to turn over more than $2 million that East Harlem Triangle was supposed to receive as part of its share, documents obtained by the Daily News show.

“We want to know where our money went,” said Derrick Taitt, board chairman of East Harlem Triangle.

“We had an agreement (with Abyssinian) to be a joint venture,” Taitt said, “but they kept cheating us and charging us for costs we never agreed to.”

Abyssinian, Harlem’s biggest affordable-housing manager and social service provider, is in such dire financial shape that it could not meet its payroll on a few occasions in recent months, Butts told The News last week.

Meanwhile, the de Blasio administration has suspended more than $3 million in city contracts after Abyssinian Development failed for three consecutive years to submit required tax filings and independent audits.

And now, records of the Pathmark land sale raise even more questions about Abyssinian’s finances.

They show that in March 2014, Abyssinian returned a $2 million deposit from Extell, after leaders of East Harlem Triangle discovered Abyssinian had secretly agreed to sell the land without notifying them.

The two groups had a 50-50 joint venture that was managed by a board of directors composed of four members from each.

After weeks of infighting, Abyssinian’s board members finally convinced one East Harlem Triangle board member to switch sides and approve the deal.

At the time, Butts rejected a personal appeal from Mark-Viverito to halt the transaction.

Continue reading

By Juan Gonzalez | October 7, 2015

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito failed to disclose $92G in rental income to city

She releases her federal tax forms saying she reported to the IRS every dime in rent she received on her East Harlem townhouse from 2009 through 2012. But she neglected to disclose this steady income on her Conflict of Interest Board forms during those years.

Melissa Mark-Viverito did not report any rental income to the Internal Revenue Service on two condos in which she has a 33% stake in Puerto Rico.

Melissa Mark-Viverito did not report any rental income to the Internal Revenue Service on two condos in which she has a 33% stake in Puerto Rico.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito failed to report $92,600 in rental income from her East Harlem townhouse on city disclosure forms, she admitted in documents released late Friday.

Mark-Viverito for the first time released her federal tax forms and said she reported to the taxman every dime in rent she received on the townhouse from 2009 through 2012.


But she neglected to disclose this steady stream of income on her Conflict of Interest Board forms — which are public documents — during those years.

Her spokesman, Eric Koch, declined to explain the omission, stating in a terse email that the forms “show she paid taxes on the rental income on her property.”


Mark-Viverito did not report any rental income to the Internal Revenue Service on two condos in which she has a 33% stake in Puerto Rico.

Late Friday, the real estate website Zillow listed one of those properties as a hot rental, stating, “The building generates $104,000 of income annually.”


Mark-Viverito’s spokesman, Koch, said she received no income from the Puerto Rican properties.

The News raised questions last week — before Mark-Viverito was elected speaker — about rental income at her East Harlem home after discovering several individuals registered to vote at her address.


She admitted she hadn’t revealed rental income there on her city disclosure forms but declined to release her tax forms or provide details on her tenants and how much rent they pay.

In releasing her tax forms Friday, Mark-Viverito continued to refuse to answer those questions about her tenants.


The law requires some 8,000 city employees to report any outside income to the COIB to ensure transparency in city government.

Records show that in 2007 and 2008, Mark-Viverito reported her rental income on her city disclosure forms, but that income disappeared from the forms between 2009 and 2012.


Each year she reported to the IRS that she received between $20,200 and $29,200 in rent on the “apartment portion” of her E. 111th St. townhouse.

She bought the home in 1998 under a program meant to encourage home ownership for lower-income New Yorkers. She was approved for a no-interest city subsidized mortgage and she got a property tax break that continues each year.


Read more:

If Park Slope gets a bike lane, why not East Harlem?

City Council member says poor and minority communities deserve the same amenities

Kathy Willens/AP The Prospect Park West bike lane.

In October, Manhattan Community Board 11’s Transportation Committee and Full Board voted in support of protected bike lanes on First and Second Aves. from 96th to 125th Sts. Since then, a small group of local business owners has sought to stymie the process, peddling misinformation that has helped sway some community board members to vote to suspend support of the bike lanes pending further investigation.

This is bad news for East Harlem.

The addition of protected bike lanes — which have barriers to make riding safer for cyclists and drivers alike — is nothing short of a social and environmental justice issue. Until recently, nearly all of the proposed locations for these lanes were in primarily white and higher-income neighborhoods — from the East Village to Chelsea to the upper East Side to Park Slope.

But all along, communities of color like El Barrio/East Harlem have needed these lanes too. Despite the stereotype that bikes are mainly used by wealthier Manhattan residents and Brooklynites, my constituents want to bike to work and for recreation, too. They ought to be able to do so safely. And even those who don’t currently do so ought to be encouraged.

Protected bike lanes improve the overall health and safety of a community by encouraging a greener and healthier form of transit, creating islands to help pedestrians cross the street and adding left turn lanes to improve traffic flow. Our community has among the highest rates of asthma and obesity in New York City. Encouraging a culture of safe cycling on our city streets can only help reverse these trends.

Some local business owners are arguing that bike lanes will lead to an increase in car traffic and the emissions that come along with it; thus, they claim, the asthma rates will worsen.

They have it exactly wrong.

The pedestrian strips associated with bike lanes will be beautified with new trees, with each tree removing one year’s worth of car emissions from the air. Additionally, having fewer automobile lanes could reduce overall traffic in communities sandwiched between the FDR and these busy avenues. This is what experts call the “traffic calming effect” of bike lanes.

This gets to the heart of the issue: Some business owners believe that the decline in traffic and loss of parking spots under this plan will impede their ability to attract customers that drive to their businesses.

There are clearly a number of pressures on local businesses in my community, but it is hard to believe that bike lanes could make or break their ability to continue to turn a profit. In fact, the protected bike lanes have the potential to encourage cyclists from other neighborhoods to visit our community, try out the restaurants and check out the local stores and cultural attractions. This has been the result in other cities, where bike tourism has brought more affluent consumers to neighborhoods that they would not otherwise have visited were it not for convenient bike lanes.

The truth is that bike lanes make sense for El Barrio/East Harlem. We deserve the amenities that other communities take for granted as a way of improving the health of our community and encouraging a culture of cycling, particularly for our youth. These bike lanes are already working well in neighborhoods throughout Manhattan. We must not allow a vocal and self-interested minority to prevent these important transportation improvements from reaching our community.

Mark-Viverito is a councilwoman who represents parts of Harlem and the South Bronx.

By Melissa Mark-viverito / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS