Inez Dickens and EDC Want to Keep Four Stories of Parking in Harlem Project

The city plans to redevelop this 125th Street site, currently an underutilized 450-space garage with some small retail on the ground floor, while replacing each and every parking space. Image: ##http://maps.google.com/maps?q=Lenox+Ave,+New+York,+NY&hl=en&ll=40.808292,-73.946716&spn=0.000249,0.000595&sll=40.732121,-73.808738&sspn=0.004382,0.009516&oq=125th+and+&t=h&hnear=Lenox+Ave,+New+York&z=21&layer=c&cbll=40.80828,-73.946716&panoid=97i1L841VqYcH9KxPgtgCg&cbp=12,67.63,,0,-8.62##Google Street View##

The New York City Economic Development Corporation’s commitment to replacing any parking spaces the agency builds on top of is a one-way ratchet toward ever-increasing amounts of automobile infrastructure. For projects at Flushing Commons and the Lower East Side’s SPURA site, slated to be built over surface parking lots, EDC has pushed for the new developments to include hundreds of parking spaces in addition to replacing the old parking.

In an RFP released Tuesday, EDC went a step further and asked for developers to try and replace every space included in a four-level garage located in the heart of Harlem at 125th Street. The request for so much parking seems to be based not on any transportation needs in the largely transit-dependent neighborhood, but rather on political negotiations with the local City Council member, Inez Dickens.

The low-slung garage, located between Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard and Lenox Avenue, currently houses 450 parking spaces, with a few small retail shops fronting Harlem’s main commercial street. The site is owned by the city and the state, and by all accounts it’s underutilized. Under current zoning, it could become a 363,000-square foot commercial building, assuming it takes advantage of bonuses for providing space for the arts.

City Council Member Inez Dickens. Photo: ##http://council.nyc.gov/d9/html/members/home.shtml##City Council##

In a section of the RFP noting the city’s development goals, EDC asks that proposals seek to “maintain as many parking spaces as possible with the objective that as many of the spaces as possible be located below grade.” Garage today, garage forever.

The impetus for that parking provision appears not to stem from EDC itself nor from any demonstrated demand for parking, but rather from Council Member Inez Dickens and negotiations over the controversial rezoning of 125th Street in 2008.

In a 2008 letter to Dickens, then-Deputy Mayor Robert Lieber mentioned the garage as one of the “Points of Agreement” from the rezoning negotiations, included in the RFP. In the letter, the administration committed to maintaining the current number of parking spaces and placing them underground. The preparation of an RFP for the site, Lieber promised, would be done in consultation with Dickens.

In fact, the language in EDC’s new RFP leaves more wiggle room to build less parking than the 2008 letter suggests, requesting that developers preserve only as many spaces as possible, rather than all of them.

Given that flexibility, it is not clear that the future developer will actually rebuild all 450 spaces. The current garage has only one underground level, in addition to two above-grade and one on the roof. Putting all four floors of parking below ground would be extremely expensive.

Nor is demand for parking on the site particularly high. The garage “doesn’t fill up regularly,” said Kristen Sokich, the regional vice president of garage operator ProPark America, though he noted it had recently been full more often due to a large but temporary corporate account. Only 22.5 percent of area households own a car.

Dickens’s office has not responded to Streetsblog inquiries about the garage redevelopment.

  • Anonymous

    As a

  • Anonymous

    …former Harlem resident, I was frustrated by how, despite the fact that just over 1/5 of residents own a car, every attempt to improve pedestrian safety or bike infrastructure was rejected by Community Board members and local politicians, most of whom own cars. Harlem has terribly high rates of obesity and asthma, and you often hear about these health problems from the same leaders who fight improvements in biking and walking conditions. A terrible paradox that keeps this neighborhood from receiving the improved safety and health that its residents deserve.

  • anon

    This seems to be related to the fact that politicians drive everywhere and can’t imagine why more parking isn’t better.

  • Mark Walker

    The problem isn’t merely that politicians own cars. The problem is that they (and a vocal minority of their constituents) regard car ownership as a social promotion. The livable streets movement needs to develop the message that living car-free is a more tangible social promotion in many ways. Not least the fact that it lets you redirect much of your income to other forms of living better: better food, better shelter, and better leisure activities (which in my case means annual pilgrimages to car-light and car-free parts of Europe). At the risk of ending on an abrasive note, a peasant who buys a car is just a peasant with a car.

  • Hanniagoodnight

    When
    stock market was doing well, all my friends, portfolio had much higher return
    on investment than mine because I had kept my portfolio to be a balanced
    portfolio with 50% invested in annuities with
    Bankers life and casualty company
     
    & rest was in stock market but with solid companies. But,
    recession hit hard my 50% of portfolio but since I had fixed return from annuities
    – I was the winner at the end. I actually advise everyone to do that – it is
    must to keep your portfolio balanced & Invest only in solid fortune 500
    companies. We must learn from our mistakes & not repeat them.

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