After years of delays, a planned 23-story apartment tower in Washington Heights moves forward

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A 23-story apartment building could finally be coming to the long-abandoned lot above the 181st St. A train station in Washington Heights after the city approved a demolition permit Feb. 14.

Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop.

That’s according to recent filings with the Department of Buildings, which also indicate several floors could be used as a school. Plans for the proposed new building, first reported in 2022, show about 15 stories would rise above Fort Washington Ave. and tower over nearby buildings — as well as Bennett Park, which is located directly across the street and occupies the highest natural point in Manhattan.

“Nothing’s been set in stone just yet,” said Nathan Shapiro of Bizzi & Partners, one of the developers behind the project. “Everything’s still in review and we still have to see what’s going to happen.”

The outside 524 Fort Washington Ave., the second part of the planned “1 Bennett Park” development in Washington Heights near 185th St. (Téa Kvetenadze / New York Daily News)

Bizzi & Partners and fellow developers Sumaida & Khurana bought the land for a reported $12 million in 2022.

Shapiro did not have any comment on a timeline for the project, but a contractor would need to pull the relevant work permits before demolition work could begin. The application for the new building, last filed in January, has not yet been approved by the DOB.

The project, which is also referred to as “1 Bennett Park,” would cost over $100 million to build, according to filings. It includes 87 parking spots and over 130,000 square feet of community facilities; space for a school is detailed on eight of the lower floors, though Shapiro would not confirm anything about a possible new school.

When asked about the potential effect on the 90-plus-year-old subway station it would be built above, Shapiro said “there will be no impact” and they are in touch with the MTA.

City Realty reported last October it would be the largest new condominium in Upper Manhattan and published renderings of the huge brickwork façade.

The Overlook Terrace view of the planned "1 Bennett Park" development in Washington Heights. The building pictured on stilts is the former home of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center. (Téa Kvetenadze / New York Daily News)
The Overlook Terrace view of the planned “1 Bennett Park” development in Washington Heights. The building pictured on stilts is the former home of the Fort Tryon Jewish Center. (Téa Kvetenadze / New York Daily News)

None of the Washington Heights residents the Daily News spoke to were aware of the plans. That may be because the developers didn’t have to go through a rezoning process to build so unusually high for the area — the other buildings around the park top out at six stories — since the zoning already allows it for such irregularly-shaped lots.

But the prospect of the new 23-story building has rankled many residents, who said they worried about the design and implications for Bennett Park, the 181st St. subway station, adjacent buildings and the neighborhood at large.

“Build better buildings and you’ll undoubtedly face less opposition from the communities in which you situate them,” said Ted Kirschner, 52, a creative director who has lived in Washington Heights for 11 years.

“But drop another bland box with cheap brickwork and no discernible character designed by someone paying more attention to a spreadsheet than a community and watch us fight like hell. As we always do. And sadly, watch us, and this beautiful city of ours, ultimately lose.”

Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the beleaguered property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop. The project would be referred to as 1 Bennett Park. (DOB)
Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the beleaguered property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop. The project would be referred to as 1 Bennett Park. (DOB)

Others were more amenable to the project, pointing to the city’s lack of housing.

Dennis Golin, 32, has lived in Washington Heights his whole life. He met his wife when they both attended preschool at the Fort Tryon Jewish Center, which was formerly housed on the site.

“I would have loved for it to be restored as a community center, but constructing housing would be a far better use for that currently decrepit patch of land,” Golin said.

Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the beleaguered property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop. The project would be referred to as 1 Bennett Park. (DOB)
Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the beleaguered property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop. The project would be referred to as 1 Bennett Park. (DOB)

The Fort Washington Avenue portion of the property is currently covered in scaffolding adorned with graffiti and missing dog posters; the Overlook Terrace section is fenced off and strewn with garbage, the remnants of the old synagogue teetering above the rocky yard.

The last attempt to build on the site proved disastrous: construction began in 2007 but ran into financial and logistical troubles and halted during the Great Recession, leaving the synagogue unusable. The project was subsequently foreclosed on.

Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the beleaguered property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop. The project would be referred to as 1 Bennett Park. (DOB)
Developers want to construct a 164-unit, 435-foot-tall building on the beleaguered property located at 524 Fort Washington Ave. and 29 Overlook Terrace, which includes a vacant former synagogue above a rocky outcrop. The project would be referred to as 1 Bennett Park. (DOB)

Gabi Porter, 49, has lived in the neighborhood since 1995 and knows how tough working on the site has been in the past.

“My guess is, after they’ve spent a fortune trying to get the project going, and disturbed everyone and everything around them, they will ultimately find that they severely underestimated the cost of the project,” she said of the plans. “It’s ugly, but neighborhoods change and evolve.”

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