Community Board 11 applauds the City’s announcement of setting aside 20% of the 700 apts to be developed at the East Harlem (EH) African Burial Ground located at 126 St and First Avenue- a massive city owned site for development. And so does El Barrio Unite (EBU), except EBU demanded 100% total affordable apartments for our community at this sensitive city owned site and nothing less.
This site has been targeted since the 2003 rezoning of EH thereby allowing 12 stories buildings to be erected at sites previously limited to 5 stories. This new rezoned height allowance doubled the apts that could be built on El Barrio sites. That spurred speculation, which created a developers frenzy which built up 17,000 new units in new bldgs.- all of which required a household income much higher than the average in order to satisfy the much higher market rents created by the gentrification caused by this 2003 rezoning in East Harlem. Which displaced 11% of the African American EH population and 9% of the Hispanic population= 20% of our EH community resident households disappeared as displaced families. And the rents have continued to be increased above what the average EH household can afford, thereby placing a rent burden on more than half the EH residents ability to pay. Thank you Mayor Bloomberg, and all the additional real estate supported politicians, etc…
Now, with the specter of the proposed 2017 EH Rezoning that will allow 36 stories bldgs on sites previously limited to 12 stories by the 2003 changes; and 5 stories previous to that, the battle continues. Lower income families lose by the economics of affordability unless the city is pressured by community involvement to commit its resources to delivering on the East Harlem Plan proposing of 100% affordability for development on valuable city property.
The City is announcing 700 apts will be built on this site. A site that will also be surrounding the discovered precolonial African American Burial Ground consecrated by the Harlem Elmendorf Dutch Reform Church back in the Niew Amsterdam days of olde New York when the Dutch established trade relations with the Lenape Indian peoples of the New York Region. Then for $24 dollars in shiny merchandised the Native Americans were walled off the city and displaced. And then annihilated. We all know this story- it must not be allowed to be repeated.
Today- NY’s existing Native population is represented by the Ramapough Tribal Center of the Lenape Indian Nation located at Mahwah, NJ. They have included their tribal emphasis on this early American Indian site as one of their earliest City settlements along the Harlem River which was an abundant wetlands ecosystem hosting game, fowl and fisheries that feed their tribal families since time immemorial. The Ramapoughs have expressed their interest that the Burial Ground be separated from the development site as a sacred ground- a place of worship, a place protected by NY State Cemetery proprietary rights, along with Native American practices of traditional honoring. All this was entered into the public hearing process, entered as official documentation. Soon after, the Community Board Land Use Committee supported this request to separate the burial ground from the total housing development site- not to be disturbed.
However, 700 units will not fit into a 12 story development on the remaining separated project site- it will have to be much higher. And that is now the conflict. How high will this site be constructed? El Barrio Unite opposes rezoning. This area is a sacred site that must not be overwhelmed by surrounding buildings which breach existing zoning regulations. Who is making these plans? This goes against common sentiments. We are under attack. All for 20%. We will lose everything as the Lenape have here in East Harlem for $24. We call on community involvement to hold the Community Board accountable to its earliest support, and keep this project within the bounds of community expressed interests. Where is the shame? Who will be accountable? When will all the solemn community voices be heard?