Developers Show Renderings for New 23-Story Apartment Building with Micro-Units; Wins Support of Community Board Committee

A rendering of the proposed building at 266 West 96th Street.

By Zachary Folk

A proposed development on 96th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue that is expected to have 68 units of affordable housing won approval from members of two Community Board 7 committees on Wednesday night. The new development is set to rise on a lot currently occupied by an unused MTA electric substation and a shorter building housing nonprofits. Developer Fetner Properties previously described plans to make 80 of the 171 apartments into micro-units, which range from 290 to 340 square feet, and market them to seniors.

The land use and housing committees of Community Board 7 voted 11-0 with one abstention to approve Fetner’s plans. The committee members were joined by Community Board Chair Mark Diller, as well as representatives from the offices of Helen Rosenthal, Borough President Gale Brewer, Congressman Jerry Nadler.

Before the board voted to approve the proposal, Fetner tried to address the concerns of the community, as well as respond to the feedback from the board in October. Several residents and community board members brought up the previous use of the city-owned site on the block — a former MTA power station.

Several people lined up to ask questions.

“I live next door, and we have been very aware of the toxicity of that site for a really long time,” said Upper West Side resident Jane Thompson. “We’re really puzzled that you’re entering into building without having any idea how toxic the site is.”

Because of the risk of hazardous materials on the site, the property was entered into the brownfield cleanup program, which is jointly run by the New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health.

“The owner and developer will be obligated to thoroughly investigate and remediate this site,” said Mimi Raygorodetsky, the leader of Langan Engineering’s environmental engineering practice. “Once any findings are realized, the owner and developer would be responsible to remediate the site so that it is safe and protective of both human health and the environment.” Upper West Side residents will be able to monitor progress on the evaluation and cleanup in real time by going to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s website.

Another rendering from Fetner.

The company also addressed the board members’ concerns about the new project appealing to lower income residents and seniors in the neighborhood. “I see the city giving both the public site and public subsidies to this project, and I just want to make sure we’re getting something back for all the public resources that are going into it,” said Melissa Rosenberg, the housing committee’s co-chair. “I really do hope that you guys will continue to look for lower levels of affordability.”

One thing the company plans to do is make amenities free. Originally, Fetner planned to charge a fee for access to the new building’s common spaces like the gym. But after getting feedback from the community board last month, the company reevaluated this policy. “We have talked to HPD, and Fetner made the decision for all the units – not just the compact units – but all the moderate affordable units in this building will get access to the health club and everything free of charge,” Hal Fetner said.

The site as it looks today.

One local who has studied micro-units said in a recent interview that amenities could help appeal to seniors who would otherwise be wary of living in a small unit. According to Rebecca Disbrow, a Vice President at Greenworks Lending and an Upper West Side resident who holds a master’s degree in city planning from MIT, adequate common space is vital for developing senior living communities in micro-unit housing.

“If you compare this to what a nursing facility or a retirement community would be, seniors would typically have smaller units but many shared spaces and other amenities,” Disbrow explained. Her 2013 thesis examined the economic feasibility of micro-unit apartments in New York City. “Micro-units are a viable idea for seniors so long as the common spaces balance the unit size – if they have somewhere to entertain, if they have somewhere to have family or have kids come visit, if they get access to more than they would otherwise have in a traditional unit. If a senior is going to be in a 500 square foot unit standalone unit or a 350 square foot micro-unit but with access to tons of common space, amenities, and other people their age, it could be a good trade-off – particularly if it’s at a lower price point because of the size.”

After the public hearing, the combined committees voted in favor of Fetner’s proposal with a few recommendations. “Fetner Properties looks forward to partnering with this community, and there was nothing in the recommendations that we find problematic that we can’t work with them and continue a longstanding relationship with,” the developer said after the vote.

Fetner’s proposal will next go before the full community board on December 3. The board will meet at Fordham University at 113 W 60th Street for the vote, after which the proposal will go to the Manhattan Borough President’s office.

NEWS, REAL ESTATE | 36 comments | permalink
    1. J_remps says:

      350 sqft is a microunit?? I pay market rate for a roomy-feeling 300ish sqft studio now. 350 at a reduced affordable rate plus amenities sounds pretty nice!

    2. Anne Ziff says:

      Stall shower in each unit?
      washer/drier in each unit?
      GOOD kitchens?
      Where else on UWS are apts like this available, if at all??

    3. Lorene Farnsworth says:

      Of course, it depends on the person, but to me micro-apartments for seniors sound horrible. I notice in the new high-rises there are a lot of shared spaces and the younger tenants seem to enjoy these spaces and use them regularly. But, speaking as a senior who has always enjoyed my own space, I cannot imagine having to suddenly embrace communal living because my apartment is too small.

      • Jan says:

        Not too long ago it was illegal in NYC to build
        Units so small. Not now. Too bad. It’s just too small
        It’s wrong to force people to live in such small places
        Just get out of NY and go somewhere else
        The City is out of control anyway. Not worth it anymore
        This used to be a great city

        • Allison says:

          Well, the minimalist movement is gaining traction and people are realizing that you don’t need a huge space to live in and lots of s#*t to fill it. What do you really do in your apartment besides eat and sleep? How much space does one really need for that?

          • HelenD says:

            What does that even mean? I don’t have ANY room for sh#t in my apt but I need to be able to cook and move around and invite people over because it’s my space and I’m paying for it. Do you want seniors to just stay in the cubicles and out of your way?

    4. robert says:

      Some thing needs an edit
      “The owner and developer will be obligated to thoroughly and this site,” said Mimi

    5. Ivan Stoler says:

      With this project, the new one @ the corner of bway/96, and west end and 95, 95 bway/amsterdam, are these buildings gonna kick in any $ for mass transit? Have you ever tried getting on the subway @ 96 in the am. Kinda crowded…

      • Jay says:

        The residents will be paying taxes to the state, just as any other resident.

        It’s up to the state to spend our money wisely to allow further expansions to accommodate more people.

      • West Ender says:

        I’m curious about what will happen to the 106 and 96 bus stop that is currently there. It’s gone in the renderings. It’s the first stop on the line so there are frequently several parked there waiting for the next route to begin. The stop at 96 and Broadway always has a mob of people because of it’s proximity to the subway. I’m sure with 2 new high rises it will only get worse. They need to keep that stop. (Not sure where they could move it — the buses come south on WEA so the west side of WEA and 96th won’t work; and because they make a left onto 96th, they can’t have the stop on WEA either.

        • robert says:

          The renderings are just that. They are done to allow the full view of the new builds. Odd are during construction, the first stop will be the B’way one. Think 2+ year timeline there. I would not be at all surprised if that becomes perinate as these new builds will not want a bus layover point of 4 or 5 buses idling there. If the stop is put back after construction I would bet it will be moved further down towards WEA. That buildings entrance is on WEA not 96

          • West Ender says:

            If they move the stop further west (in front of the building that has its entrance on WEA), where will the buses park before they start their route? Maybe on 97th at the last stop on the route? They can’t eliminate the stop altogether – they must have somewhere for the buses to park and they can’t do that at the 96th & Broadway stop.

    6. MQue says:

      the Building a few doors down has probably even smaller units than 350. When I went to preview them I could not believe they were smaller than a hotel room

    7. Sherman says:

      Something about this story makes no sense.

      I highly doubt many seniors will be moving into a 350 square foot apartment. Most seniors already in the neighborhood likely either own their place or live in some kind of rent-regulated apartment. As such, they will not give up their apartments for such a tiny space.

      Furthermore, there are seniors selling their suburban homes and moving into the city. But I highly doubt that these people would move from a house into a micro unit. Furthermore, seniors who sell their suburban homes will likely flip the income from the sale into buying or renting a decent sized place.

      The developer is saying this building will primarily be for seniors in order to appeal to Community Board 7 (which is dominated by seniors and concerned that young people moving into the area will somehow disrupt their lives and housing entitlements).

      Once this building actually goes up it will likely have very few seniors but instead will have twentysomethings willing to live in such spaces in order to get a toehold in the city.

      • 123Train says:

        I certainly hope twenty-somethings will populate the micro units. This area needs some young people with disposable income to liven things up!

        • lynn says:

          I don’t know if you’re joking or not, but I don’t know any 20 somethings with income, much less disposable income. Where are they hiding? : p

          • 123Train says:

            They’ve all gone downtown or to Brooklyn, where they’ve livened things up! They certainly aren’t on the UWS anymore.

    8. Juan says:

      My elderly uncle lives in an assisted living facility in a part of the country where there is infinite space to build. Yet his personal living space is smaller than these apartments, and he shares a bathroom with a neighbor. It is not ideal, but it works for him. Granted, he does not need to eat in the apartment, which makes a big difference, but he spends much of his time in community spaces. If these buildings have adequate community spaces for the residents, they are fine.

      We are constantly complaining that there are not enough affordable units on the UWS. Sometimes one has to compromise. If having smaller apartments is the way to compromise, so be it. If these are too small to inhabit, no one will choose to live in them – supply and demand.

    9. Bill Williams says:

      Giveaways and tax abatements all to wealthy developers with the end result being the continued increase in population density. Then this same Community Board will complain about the lack of funding for mass transit and the increase in traffic.

      Thank god these community boards, especially this one, have absolutely no power to do anything.

      • Unelected and politically appointed by the Borough President and City Council, Community Boards wield a lot of power in decisons made on our behalf. As an organization representing a community, they make it appear that their resolutions represent the majority of their district. A private individual with opposing views does not have the same voice they have when addressing the City Planning Commission or City Council.

    10. wombatNYC says:

      Man O’ Man – I’d hate to be living on W95th street for the next 2 years. They’re in for a world of noise and disruption as this and the Latin Quarter/Chase Bank thing on the corner gets built

    11. My dad lived in a small studio (203 sq ft) in a Sunrise Assisted Living on long island. It worked out wonderfully for him. When he wanted to be with people, he came out and participated in communal activities. When he wanted quiet time, he stayed in his room. I think this development makes a lot of sense, especially if affordably priced.

    12. Sean says:

      Isn’t another building going up that will cater to wealthy seniors? This one will be on Broadway.

    13. Leon says:

      The image of this building, combined with knowing that there is another big building going up on the corner of 96 and Broadway and that this is across form the huge, hideous Columbia building, reminds me of the lyrics by Simon & Garfunkel: “Hello darkness my old friend…”

    14. Chip says:

      Used to be called SRO’s … now they are “Micro-units” ..

    15. AC57 says:

      They should’ve put some windows on the west side of the buildingin the top few floors, where it overlooks the neighboring building,. That blank wall always annoys me.

      That being said, this is the kind of projects that we need on the Upper West Side. Good on Fetner for doing this on their own accord.

    16. Gina says:

      Ugh. I’ve lived on 96 St for over FIFTY years. I remember when the Columbia went up and blocked my sliver of the Hudson. This is awful. More luxury high rises in our increasingly depleted neighborhood? These luxury apts are not contributing to the neighborhood at all. I say we must restrict these rapacious real estate people before they’ve completely ruined our neighborhood

      • AC57 says:

        We’re just gonna ignore the 68 affordable housing and micro units that the developer voluntarily offered up, making up about 40% of the building… Okay, cool. Totally doesn’t exist, and totally didn’t have to be forced out of the developer

        We need more mixed income housing just like these projects. What else would you want on this lot? Leave the decrepit unused space alone, serving no purpose whatsoever, taking up space in a vital piece of property? We’re not going to complain our way out of this housing crisis, we’ve gotta build our way out of this crisis. We need developers like Fetner proposing projects like this, and larger, in our neighborhood, to make it truly affordable, because without proposals like this, we’re never gonna make any progress

        And also, in what world is 23 stories tall?????? (In fact, why are they going for an upzoning at all? 23 stories is the maximum amount required for the R10A district the building resides in. Is there something I am missing?

    17. 92nd Street says:

      What is the maximum annual salary permitted for an Affordable Housing Studio Apartment?

    18. nicole levin says:

      If 68 of the 171 units are affordable, and 80 are micro units does that mean no non-micro units are affordable and even some of them are market? What standard of affordability is being used? Do CB#7 resident seniors have some priority in tenant selection?

    19. Mark G says:

      A micro unit looks real appealing to my 67 year old friend who has been for years sleeping on the subways where you get, what, 4 square feet of space for sleeping? He makes $24,000 a year on fixed income but can’t afford the high rents and the price of co-ops or condos. The shelters are too dirty and unsafe and to get into the small number of “safe haven shelters” you need a connection.

    20. Bruce says:

      The lot next door, on Broadway and 96th, is currently empty. What are the plans for that spot?