Another Milestone For The African Burial Ground Project In Harlem

City Limits reports that the Economic Development Corporation (EDC)’s proposal to rezone the 126th Street Bus Depot to facilitate the development of an African Burial Ground memorial and a mixed-use development with housing was approved unanimously by the City Planning Commission on Wednesday.

The project, which was earlier “approved with conditions” by both Community Board 11 and by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, now moves forward to the City Council, which will deliver the final binding vote.

EDC’s plan comes after years of work by two task forces of local stakeholders, who sought to honor a desecrated burial ground for enslaved and free African remains discovered at the site. The plan has also figured into discussions of the immediately-adjacent East Harlem rezoning, as it’s one of a few large parcels that the administration has deemed ripe for redevelopment and that is also city-owned—meaning that the city can control what is built there.

The city’s plan would create an outdoor memorial and indoor cultural center, commercial space and roughly 730 units of housing. The city has committed to ensuring 20 percent of those units are targeted to households making less than $25,770 for a family of three, and another 30 percent are targeted to families making no more than $68,720 for a family of three. No developer or exact site plan has yet been chosen, but in one scenario the city imagines a 19-story and a 34-story building.

EDC and the Department of City Planning (DCP) have agreed to establish an urban design review protocol that will allow the chair of the commission (also the executive director of DCP) to inform the development and design of the project, assuming it receives the City Council’s approval, and to ensure the commission’s goals for the site are realized.

In the past, some community residents have expressed an eagerness for the memorial, but concern that the new buildings would overshadow the memorial and that the housing wouldn’t be affordable to enough East Harlem residents.

Both the board and the borough president requested in their conditions that the city make 100 percent of the units affordable by securing additional funding, provide preference for a non-for-profit developer, and make sure the developer follows the task force’s design recommendations for the design of the site, among other recommendations.

Excited that the project is moving forward? Disappointed that it hasn’t been stopped in its tracks? Let us know what you think and we’ll post your comments below.

Reactions to CPC vote on the African Burial Ground Project

Anthony Hogrebe, senior vice president of public affairs at EDC: “Today’s vote marks another major step towards building a permanent memorial for the historic Harlem African Burial Ground and providing affordable housing and jobs for East Harlem residents. We are grateful to receive the support of the City Planning Commission and look forward to continuing to work with Speaker Mark-Viverito, the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force, and other community leaders to make this project a reality.”

Roger Hernandez, Jr, on behalf of the United Confederation of Taino People, advocating for the creation of an indigenous cultural center and waterfront park adjacent to the African Burial Ground memorial: “I am supportive of the The Native American community which is looking forward to participating in this project with the new linkage of the DOT 127th Street viaduct entrance to the adjoining waterfront. This NYC Park land along the East Harlem River should be developed to commemorate the historical legacy of the earliest settlement at this site of the Lenape Indians to celebrate the bountiful environmental resources (waterfowl, hunting, shellfish, oysters, and estuary fishing) which existed here on this location before the Dutch settled Manhattan. It will compliment the sacred burial site with an indigenous environmental educational cultural center attracting tourist from the Tri-State region interested in celebrating racial and cultural diversity since New York’s earliest times.”

Local councilmember and Speaker of City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito: “The 126th Street Bus Depot project provides our community with a unique opportunity to memorialize the historic Harlem African Burial Ground, while at the same time creating much needed affordable housing and jobs for the residents of El Barrio/East Harlem. I look forward to hearing feedback from local stakeholders as this project moves to the Council for final review through the Land Use Committee.”

Roberto Borrero, also of the United Confederation of Taino People, wrote: “The United Confederation of Taíno People has a Treaty of Friendship with the Ramapough Lenape Nation. There are many Taíno people who reside around the development area in question. This is an area that has a verifiable and significant historic, indigenous presence, but it is being ignored. We are also concerned that in all NYC, there is no substantial monument commemorating the indigenous Lenape Nation yet the word Manhattan is derived from the Lenape language. The proposal for a street naming and cultural, waterfront park dedicated to the Lenape offers a unique historic and educational opportunity to celebrate NY’s racial and cultural diversity while paying homage to the first Nations of this State and this country.”

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