Harlem church accuses developer of reneging on deal

David Levitan told church he would fix up community center, but instead plans homeless shelter: neighbors

James Varick Community Center at 151 West 136th Street
James Varick Community Center at 151 West 136th Street

The members of a historic Harlem church claim they were deceived by a developer who bought their community center for $7 million with plans to develop condos, but then turned around and secretly converted it to a homeless shelter.

Developer David Levitan purchased the community center at 151 West 136th Street from the Mother African Methodist Episcopal Church for $7 million, according to the New York Daily News.

At the time, the church, which traces its history back to 1796, was more than $1 million in debt. But after the deal closed, construction started on a homeless shelter at the site without any permits filed at the Department of Buildings.

Community Board 10 had put a moratorium on new or expanded homeless shelters in 2008, citing an area in Central Harlem that was already teeming with them.

“(Levitan) said he’s keep it as a community center, would fix it up, sit on it and see what the market does and then determine what to do from there,” J. Wayman Henry, an area resident and managing partner of a real estate consulting firm that bid on the center, told the newspaper.

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Levitan’s office did not return calls for comment from the newspaper.

The city’s homelessness crisis has come to the forefront recently as Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have sparred with one another on how to best handle the issue.

Assemblyman Keith Wright, City Councilwoman Inez Dickens and the 32nd Precinct want the city to hold off on signing any contracts with Levitan, who runs other homeless shelters including one in the South Bronx where a 21-year old was fatally shot at a birthday party.

Neighborhood residents claim Levitan tried to get around the community board’s moratorium by presenting his plans as a relocation of the nearby Kelly Transitional Residence on West 127th Street.

Doug James, an attorney for the center, said it is in the early stages of a plan to relocate. [NYDN]Rich Bockmann

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