Bruce Teitelbaum reboots controversial Harlem project

Developer presents socialist Council member with stark choice

Bruce Teitelbaum; West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue (Getty, Google Maps)
Bruce Teitelbaum; West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue (Getty, Google Maps)

Bruce Teitelbaum is giving the City Council a second chance to approve affordable housing on his Harlem development site.

In a letter to Council member Kristin Richardson Jordan, the developer indicates that he will restart the rezoning process at West 145th Street and Lenox Avenue, rebranded as “One45 Harlem For ALL.”

This time, the prospect of a truck stop there instead will not be hypothetical: One is already up and running, and is expected to transition from its “soft opening” to being fully operational.

The tone of Teitelbaum’s letter to the politician who forced the withdrawal of his $700 million project in May was not exactly conciliatory.

“So, 145th Street will now be proceeding on parallel paths. Either One45 Harlem For ALL, or, if you choose to scuttle affordable housing for Harlem again, 145th Street’s limited existing as-of-right entitlement (a similar choice as last year),” the letter states. “It is time for you and all of those who have a say in whether One45 Harlem For ALL lives or dies to make a decision.”

Teitelbaum has indicated that the truck stop is temporary, and barring a rezoning, he would likely develop market-rate condos or rentals, or a storage facility. His revival of the rezoning proposal comes off as a dare to the City Council to defy the tradition of member deference and approve the project over Richard Jordan’s opposition.

The not-too-subtly rebranded project is similar to Teitelbaum’s previous one, with some adjustments. Once again, half of the 915 apartments (down from 917) will be below market-rate, with 174 units dedicated to residents earning about 30 percent of the area median income. Another 164 would go to households making between 60 percent and 80 percent of AMI.

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In opposing the earlier plan, Jordan wanted all the units rented to households earning 30 percent of area median income, and was open to some at 50 percent. More expensive units, she argued, would gentrify the neighborhood, inspiring other landlords to raise rents and displace people, although research has not borne out that contention.

Alluding to the affordable units at 60 percent of AMI and above, Teitelbaum’s letter emphasizes they would house middle-class residents — “union households like members of 32BJ & Local 79, civil servants, blue collar workers, teachers, health care professionals, and other working-class Harlem families who live in your district.”

The earlier proposal included 112 apartments at the lowest AMI and 255 units at 50 percent AMI. The changes still do not match the affordability levels demanded by Jordan, and details on the mix of unit-size — another sticking point in negotiations — were not immediately available.

Messages sent to Jordan were not immediately returned. The letter acknowledges that a deal will not likely be reached with the Council member. Both Teitelbaum and Jordan have accused each other of failing to engage in fair negotiations.

“I realize that you remain opposed to One45 Harlem For ALL. Nonetheless, unless we quickly engage in meaningful dialogue, progress toward a solution is unlikely,” the letter states.

The fate of the Harlem site is expected to become a major issue in June’s Democratic primary. Several candidates are vying for Jordan’s seat. The winner’s term would start in January.

Teitelbaum is hopeful that other city leaders, including Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, will intervene in the fight. Levine, who opposed an earlier version of the project but supported iterations with 50 percent affordable units, has lamented the lost opportunity for affordable housing, as has the Adams administration.

After One45 was killed, the mayor and City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams took steps to push through two residential rezonings, in Queens and the Bronx, after initial opposition from the local Council members. Neither required as high a percentage of affordable housing as Teitelbaum is offering.

State Attorney General Letitia James has reportedly warned the developer that the truck stop may be illegal and constitute a “public nuisance.”