Council Approves Harlem African Burial Ground

City Land NYC reports that the Harlem African Burial Ground, affordable housing, and commercial space will replace the 126th Street Bus Depot. On September 27, 2017, City Council approved the 126th Street Bus Depot redevelopment by a vote of 42-0. The land use application, by NYC Economic Development Corporation, includes a zoning map amendment, zoning text amendment, city map change, and future disposition of city-owned property. This action will facilitate the development of affordable housing, commercial space, and the Harlem African Burial Ground Memorial. For CityLand’s coverage on the prior stages of the project’s ULURP process, click here.

On September 5, 2017, at the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions meeting, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito described the project’s history. This project is “the culmination of almost a decade of work.” Reverend Patricia Singletary from the Elmendorf Reformed Church wanted “to properly memorialize her church’s historic African burial ground underneath the 126th Street Bus Depot, which had been forgotten, built upon and disrespected for almost 200 years.” Reverend Singletary approached Speaker Mark-Viverito in 2009, who then helped the Reverend form a group of local stakeholders—community members, city agencies, archaeologists, urban planners, architects, historians—to create the Harlem African Burial Ground Task Force “to advocate for the reclamation, preservation and recognition of this sacred cemetery.” Speaker Mark-Viverito commended the efforts of Reverend Singletary and the Harlem Burial Ground Task Force, especially in their ability “to persevere when no one believed the history that they had uncovered.”

18,000 square feet in the Harlem African Burial Ground will be accessible to the public. The Harlem African Burial Ground will also contain an outdoor memorial and an indoor cultural educational center, which must be maintained in perpetuity. The City will work with the developer to ensure the memorial’s future through financial commitment. Speaker Mark-Viverito stated, “The developer will be required to provide an annual contribution of approximately $1 million to support eligible operating costs. The indoor and outdoor spaces will be provided to the memorial operator free of charge.” 20% of the housing units, available at market-rate, will also contribute to the cost of the memorial’s operation. The Speaker added, “The commitments being made today will ensure the history that Reverend Singletary and the task force have rediscovered will never be forgotten again.”

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