Proposed housing development faces sudden community backlash




Residents and community representatives pack the Fulton Houses Community Centre for a CB4 meeting on Sept. 2

By Marika Washchyshyn

Angry West Chelsea residents forced Community Board 4 members to withdraw their support for a proposed affordable housing development on September 2, demanding a raft of changes ranging from larger apartments to a revised pet policy.

Members of the community attacked Artimus Construction’s proposed expansion of the Fulton Houses development, including the size and cost of the units, a no-pet policy that local residents had not been aware of, and plans to put a trash compactor under the windows of a nearby residence and close to two daycare centers.

The 158-unit development, to be built on an existing New York City Housing Authority parking lot, is only the second 100-percent affordable housing building in the area. It is also part of Artimus’s 2007 deal to build privately on NYCHA-owned land.

On Sept. 2, CB4 voted 24 to six in favor of changing their letter to the Department of City Planning from an “approval based on conditions met” to a “recommendation for denial unless conditions met,” after at least two meetings where unsatisfied community members turned out to protest.

The mood in the meeting room was somber given the initial excitement both residents and representatives had expressed about the new building. The plan likely wouldn’t be so problematic if the process hadn’t accelerated so quickly, admitted J. Lee Compton, chair of the Chelsea land use committee.

Neighborhood residents complained that they knew few details about the proposed development at West 18th Street between 9th and 10th avenues. Aaron Freeman, a resident of 422 W. 20th Street, had particular concerns about plans to move the trash compactor to the rear of his building when construction of the new building takes place.

“None of us would have known there was this compactor potentially moving right under our window,” said Freeman, one of dozens of residents who spoke at the meeting. Two daycare centers operate nearby, and “children will inhale these toxins and disgusting odors every day.”

The condominium’s building manager, Rick Mason, indicated that no one at the building was notified about the placement of the compactor.

“The timing of this was very unfortunate for us, and fortunate for their side,” Mason said of the developers. “It seems strange that no one knew.” The first time he and others learned of the trash compactor was late August, he said.

But according to Artimus representative Robert Ezrapour, the plans for the compactor have been on community board and city planning websites for a while.

“This is as public as it gets,” he said. “The entire city of New York knows about this project, they just have to check the [web]sites.”

The location of the compactor may be the least of Artimus’ worries. Since the initial proposal to CB4 in July and the first public pitch on August 19, the contractors have received a lot of pushback from the community.

Fulton Houses Tenant Association President Miguel Acevedo said he was disappointed that Artimus hasn’t allocated any “givebacks” to the community, including much-needed repairs to existing buildings. Other residents complained about the size and affordability of the units. Still others pleaded with the board to add a health facility, given the recent closing of St. Vincent’s Hospital. The exclusion of pets provoked disapproving shouts from residents at the meeting.

Even CB4 Chair Corey Johnson, now the newly-elected city council representative from the third district, spoke out against the project. Johnson, who recused himself from chairing the vote because of a conflict of interest (his city council campaign lawyers also represent the condo management at 422 W. 20th Street), said the proposal doesn’t do enough for residents of the community.

“What’s happened tonight…from no givebacks, to the no-pet policy, to the trash compactor issue, I have a hard time supporting this project,” Johnson said. “It’s been rushed.”

Ezrapour was quick to defend his company’s project, emphasizing that the community asked for the building in the first place.

“There are some issues we can address and some we can’t,” Ezrapour said. “The committee and the community can always tell us no.”

If Artimus doesn’t meet new guidelines drawn up by CB4, that “no” could become a reality. Based on the deadline of the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, Artimus has until the next land use committee meeting on September 16 to address CB4’s requested changes. The community board will then send a letter to the Department of City Planning recommending approval or denial of the project.

The developers are “going to have a tough time if they think they can just push this through,” said Mason, the building manager at 422 W. 20th. “They have a lot of work to do.”