Bronx development wins council vote despite open space concerns

On Tuesday morning the City Council’s Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises unanimously approved a proposal that would allow up to 10 new apartment buildings to rise near the Bronx River, to be built by a development team that includes former New York City Council Speaker Gifford Miller.

The Council’s approval of the Crotona Park East/West Farms rezoning came over objections from community groups that the project will not do enough to provide open space for a park-starved area, while adding 1,300 apartments and thousands of new residents. A required environmental review concluded that the project would have a negative impact on the availability of open space in the area. The neighborhoods have just three-quarters of an acre of publicly accessible open space for every 1,000 residents.

Before the vote the subcommittee’s chair, Councilmember Mark Weprin, read a letter from the city Department of Parks and Recreation, promising that the agency “will evaluate the current open space conditions to determine what opportunities there may be to improve open space within the re-zoning area.” A separate letter from the developer, Industco Holdings, commits to attending meetings with local community boards and the parks department to discuss possible future improvements, and to alert local officials whenever a new building permit is issued for the site.

Council member Joel Rivera, whose district includes the area slated for development, said he thought the plan could improve but ultimately supported the idea of more affordable housing in his district, where the median income is $21,000. “Looking at the entire project as planned, it’s better than what is being done,” he said.

In his testimony to the zoning subcommittee on Monday Miller said that Industco had planned to build a playground and a courtyard and to work closely with Parks and Recreation to assess future needs.

“You need to do better than what you’ve done here today,” Council member Maria del Carmen Arroyo said to Miller and city officials.

Kellie Terry-Sepulveda, chair of the Bronx River Alliance, a local stewardship and environmental justice group, also maintains that more needs to be done. Sepulveda’s organization, the Point Community Development Corporation, in partnership with Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice and other local groups, have succeeded in bringing some green space to the neighborhood, including Concrete Plant Park, which opened up the Bronx River to picnickers, canoers and kayaks when it opened last year.

Now, Sepulveda is pushing for a legally binding agreement between the developers and the city to maintain these new parks and build more. “The general notion that a developer should be on the hook for long-term maintenance, that notion is what we’re interested in incorporating into zoning policy moving forward,” she said.

There are precedents for such commitments. Last year, the developer of Riverside Center, a luxury high-rise complex on the Hudson River, promised to create and maintain affordable housing, a school and recreational space, and signed a legally binding agreement.

Miller said the success of the entire project depended on how well the first two buildings are in attracting residents. “If we don’t make the first two buildings work,” he said, “no one is going to live in buildings three through 10.”

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