By Zachary Folk
The developer of a proposed 23-story building on 96th Street thinks seniors will want to live in micro-units there, and will use space-saving furniture like fold-up beds.
Developer Hal Fetner gave his pitch about the proposed new apartment complex at 266 West 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue to dozens of Upper West Side residents, who braved the rain and a high wind warning on Wednesday night to attend a joint meeting for Community Board 7’s land use and housing committees. The presentation was given by the city’s Department of Housing Preservation & Development, as well as members of Fetner Properties’ management. Hal Fetner, the company’s president and CEO, fielded many questions himself about the new development.
If approved, the new building will have 171 apartments. Sixty eight of the units will be reserved for tenants making just above or below the area median income. These units will be distributed through HPD’s lottery program. The building is expect to have 80 studio micro-units in total, as well as 91 one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.
The property will have a health club located on the cellar floor. Additional tenant amenity spaces, such as a laundry room, entertainment rooms, and communal kitchens are planned for the first and second floors.
“The building has been designed to look like an Upper West Side building,” said Carol Rosenthal, an attorney for Fetner Properties. Elements of the current buildings in the lots will also be incorporated into the new structure, including the facade of the old MTA transformer station. It will also house community service organizations. Fetner already plans to relocate the current Salvation Army storefront to the new building after construction is complete. “We’re going to build the nicest Salvation Army in all of New York City,” Fetner said. “It’s for the whole community, and it’s in our building.”
The micro-units in the proposed development will range from 290 to 340 square feet. When asked whether there was significant demand for apartments that small, HPD was uncertain. “I think it depends on the area,” said Kevin Parris, HPD’s Deputy Director of Planning for Manhattan. “I don’t know what the stats would be for this community because we don’t have that kind of development happening here.”
Fetner did note that demand for these types of apartments in other parts of the city has grown in recent years. “There are micro-units that have already been built in Midtown that are occupied by young, middle [aged], and seniors, and they love it,” Fetner said. “There’s a waiting list to get into those buildings.”
However, several board members were disappointed with the scope of the current plans. “There’s not a lot of naturally occurring affordable housing in our neighborhood,” said Melissa Rosenberg, co-chair of the housing committee. “I think that’s our role, to keep advocating for that income diversity in the community.” Rosenberg was particularly concerned about the lack of choices for affordable housing. Currently 35 of the 68 affordable units are studios, while only 14 are one-bedroom and 19 are two-bedroom. There are no plans to provide any affordable 3-bedroom apartments.
“The discussion is ongoing,” Parris said. “We’re looking to be responsive to what we’re hearing, and also trying to make sure we do produce a financially feasible project that uses HPD’s resources to the best of our ability.”
Louisa Craddock, the other co-chair of the housing committee, also raised concerns about how the new building would cater to seniors. Fetner told the board in May that they envisioned many of the micro-units going to people over the age of 65, who currently make up 22 percent of the Upper West Side’s population. However, Craddock was unsure how the smaller-sized units would accommodate these kinds of tenants. “Seniors actually need more space. They have walkers, they have equipment, they may have aides that are with them most of the day,” she said. “They tend to bring their furniture with them that may be larger than your typical Crate and Barrel.”
“It’s not Crate and Barrel,” Mr. Fetner assured the board members. “We spent a lot of time researching it, and it’s actually great for seniors because it’s all automated. It’s beds and furniture that fold up, and with one push of a button it will fold down. So a senior citizen would have ease of access.”
Although they cannot control who applies for the affordable housing lottery, Fetner remains committed to providing more seniors with housing at this site. “I’ll go on the record and say I would love to get seniors into this building,” Mr Fetner said. “I’m happy to work with this community to figure out what the best ways of doing outreach are to make sure we have a higher concentration of seniors applying for these units.”
Fetner is planning to start construction on the project in 2020. The next public hearing for the project will be on November 20. The board will meet one more time for a final vote for approval on December 3rd.