Economy / Housing

‘Peninsula’ housing plan questioned

Gilbane Development Company

A projection of what the area on Spofford Avenue will like once construction on The Peninsula is completed in five years.

Community board angered over city policy change made after they approved project

An ambitious plan to transform the shuttered Bridges Juvenile Justice Center into apartments, small businesses and public space met resistance from Community Board 2, whose members are angry over a new part of the plan that calls for setting aside 74 apartments for homeless individuals and families.

At a June 8 meeting, developers and a housing nonprofit came to discuss their proposal, which the city’s Economic Development Corp. last year selected over proposals from three other groups. Board members were surprised to learn that the plan for The Peninsula, as the complex will be called, now calls for at least 10 percent of the 740 projected apartments to be set aside for people who are currently homeless. According to a new city policy implemented in May, developers receiving subsidies under the Extremely Low and Low-Income Affordability program (ELLA), must reserve 10 or 30 percent of new apartments as permanent housing for that population. Hunts Point and Longwood, board members argued, already host more than their fair share of homeless New Yorkers in shelters.

Although developers from Gilbane Development and Hudson Companies said they would opt for the 10 percent minimum, the board responded that that is still too high.

“This board has never supported anything more than five percent,” said Board 2’s acting chair Robert Crespo. “That number has to be in everybody’s head, because if not, we’re not going to approve it.”

Board 2 member Peter Rosado turned to the director of Bronx planning for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, Ted Weinstein, to blast the new arrangement.

“HPD and the city thinks you guys can run over communities like this and just rewrite these term sheets,” said Rosado. “It’s ridiculous, it’s rude, and to be honest with you, it’s classist.”

But the city has no choice, Weinstein responded.

“There is a severe homeless crisis, and everybody correctly gets upset about the number of people who are in the shelters,” said Weinstein. “The best way to reduce the number of people who are homeless is to provide homes.”

In a 2016 report released by the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, Hunts Point ranked 10th among the city’s 59 Community Districts with 225 area families entering the shelter system.

Because the city owns the 4.75-acre lot on Spofford Avenue where the mothballed jail is located, the project is subject to the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP),  starting with a Board 2 vote. Though non-binding, the outcome of that vote could influence the process as it progresses to the Bronx Borough President’s office, City Planning Commission, the mayor’s office, and finally the City Council.

Maria Torres, president of The Point Community Development Corporation, which is working with the developers to create and hone The Peninsula’s community participation component, suggested that the board’s concerns could be eased if the number of local residents who get to live in the new buildings is increased. Under the present arrangement, 50 percent of the apartments would be set aside for people who live in the district.

After the old jail on the 4.75-acre lot is demolished, five new buildings will be constructed around a central plaza, with two underground parking garages below. Construction is slated to begin in 2018, on one building for light industry and a residential building with 204 apartments. Phase two will add two more buildings and 339 apartments, starting in 2020. The third and final phase calls for construction of one building with 193 apartments, to be finished in 2022. The project is estimated to cost more than $300 million.

So far, local businesses that have expressed interest in moving in include Il Forno Bakery, Bascom Catering, Hunts Point Brewing, Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance, Spring Bank, Super Fi Grocery and Urban Health Plan.

At least one potential tenant said he can’t wait for the project to start. Arthur Aviles, co-founder of the Bronx Academy of Arts & Dance and a Hunts Point resident since 1996, plans to bring the organization back to the community where it was founded. In 2013, the award-winning group relocated to Westchester Square when the landlord kicked them out of Hunts Point’s historic BankNote building to create space for the Human Resources Administration.

“I think that the people [here] are incredibly friendly and open and stylish, and that’s my block,” said Aviles. “It’s really important that our community will be able to have access to housing and the beautiful accommodations that [The Peninsula] would afford all of us.”

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