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In a move critics say circumvents zoning laws to assist powerful developers, state and city officials plan to relocate an East Harlem children’s playground to accommodate a $1 billion project that would include one of the tallest buildings outside midtown.
At the request of the City Council and the de Blasio administration, state Sen. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) and Assemblyman Michael Benedetto (D-Bronx) are pushing bills that could be approved as early as Wednesday to discontinue the use of the Marx Brothers Playground on Second Avenue and East 96th as parkland.
The 1.5-acre playground is part of a proposed 1,100-unit, mixed-income residential tower than would be more than 720 feet high and have space for three new schools.
It is to be built by a partnership between the mayoral-controlled NYC Educational Construction Fund and developer Avalon Bay.
A replacement playground would be built in another part of the square-block development, nestled between the planned schools and residential tower that would be Manhattan’s largest building north of 60th Street.
The new schools would serve students now attending Co-Op Tech School, Park East High School and the Heritage School.
“This would set a very bad precedent for developers and city officials being able to go around existing zoning regulations,” said Geoffrey Croft of the watchdog group NYC Park Advocates. “Literally, no parks and other public land would be safe in the city.”
Many local residents are fuming that the project would cast large shadows over the neighborhood.
“It is totally out of context with the rest of the neighborhood…” said Silve Parviainen, who lives a block away. “Also, the neighborhood can’t handle the thousands of new people who would come with the project. We already have serious traffic and parking problems.”
Mayoral spokesperson Freddi Goldstein cited the benefits.
This will be be “the first new high schools in East Harlem in 50 years, and they come alongside 300 permanently affordable apartments, new jobs for local residents and a full replacement of the playground,” she said.
“Anyone saying the status quo is better is turning a blind eye to this community’s need for better schools and homes people can afford.”
The City Council last week approved a nonbinding, home-rule message to state legislators to remove Marx Brothers Playground’s parkland status, so the development could move forward.
For the past decade, one-third of the playground has been used as a temporary staging area for construction of the Second Avenue Subway project.
Neither Serrano nor Benedetto returned messages.