Economy / Housing

Bronxites rally against rezoning plan

Noah Stein

Protesters rally against the city’s Jerome Ave. rezoning plans on Sept. 30.

 

Holding signs that read “Gentrification is Class Warfare” and wearing T-shirts with “Our Bronx, Our Lives, Our Solutions” emblazoned on the back, community activists from Hunts Point headed east to University Heights to join protests against larger residential developments for the borough.

There was a festive atmosphere at the corner of West Burnside and University avenues on Thursday evening as hundreds rallied against a proposal to rezone a 73-block stretch of Jerome Avenue, which runs north-south starting at the Harlem River. The rally was planned in conjunction with the first of several public hearings where citizens and representatives of the Department of City Planning will be able to sound off on the rezoning efforts.

Community members fear that the long corridor of upzoning across much of the South Bronx will cause irreparable damage to local neighborhoods, and send shockwaves into other Bronx neighborhoods like Hunts Point and Longwood.

Harold DeRienzo, president of the Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association, stressed that this plan needs to be looked at from a larger scale. There are several developments, including the transformation of the Sheridan Expressway, which stand to be harmed by a rushed Jerome Avenue plan. “The impact area for the proposal stretches from Bronx Park South to the tip of Hunts Point,” said DeRienzo.

DeRienzo and other community members are calling for the city to take a broader perspective on development in the South Bronx as a whole. “We’ve got to look at all that stuff in combination to see how this will feed into cumulative displacement for the people that don’t make $50,000 to $125,000 a year,” he said.

The proposal, revealed by the Department of City Planning in early September, would rezone the corridor along Jerome Avenue running north from 167th Street in Highbridge near Yankee Stadium through four neighborhoods up to 184th Street, or almost to Fordham Road. Much of that stretch now is underneath the 4 train, and is zoned only for commercial and manufacturing.  The city estimates the changes could create as many as 3,200 new residential apartments, and add up 9,000 new residents in the process.

Any building constructed in the new area would have to abide by the mayor’s new housing rule, which requires developers to include a portion of affordable units. But local residents also worry that the rezoning could displace the businesses – and the jobs – that are currently on Jerome Avenue. And the city maintains that neighborhoods miles from the Jerome Avenue corridor, such as Hunts Point, will be unaffected. The Department of City Planning is now reviewing comments from the public hearings, and says it will take those into consideration as they move the plan forward. There will also be additional public hearings.

Joyce Culler, the former chair of Community Board 2’s Housing Committee, said that she fears the plan could also cause the displacement of working families in the rezoned area, many of whom will come to Hunts Point and Longwood in search of lower rents.

“There’s nowhere else they can afford to go,” said Culler, adding “there will be more people fighting for the same apartments.”

Hemmer Pascal, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and a tenant leader at 733 Prospect Avenue, said his fellow veterans will be particularly vulnerable if the proposed plan is implemented.

“This is the complete opposite of what should be happening in the Bronx. Bigger corporations are going to come in as well,” said Pacal, adding that the arrival of FreshDirect and Silvercup Studios in Port Morris are a troubling sign for low-income tenants. “Landlords will raise rents and the area will be beautified. Why does that have to come at a cost?”

Lourdes Lopez, of Christ the King Church Social Justice Group on Concourse Avenue, was concerned over the lack of community involvement in creating the plans. She said that the rezoning proposal was dropped on residents without warning, and it raised concerns as to whether the neighborhood’s representatives on the City Council have residents’ best interests in mind.

“They’ve known this for two years, they didn’t even bother telling us,” said Lopez.

Lopez doesn’t have much reason to trust outside developers to do the right thing by the current residents.  “They’re coming in to invade our community,” she said. “We want them to think of our community first.”

Randy Billard of Community Action for Safe Apartments (CASA) took issue with the sudden interest of developers in the Bronx, since it was the longtime residents who lived through the worst times in the borough, and fought to keep it safe and livable. “We was here when the neighborhood was on fire, and we was here with the crack epidemics, we was here with the gangs,” said Billard.

Wayne Moten, a representative of the Laborers Local 79 union, can see an opportunity for positive growth with the rezoning efforts – as long as longtime residents are protected. “We want to make sure that the people who lived here through all the tragedy also get to stay here for the rezoning and the beautification of our neighborhood,” he said.

Finding the balance between development and appeasing the current residents is no small task, but not an impossible one according to Moten: “We want to compromise but we don’t want to compromise our livelihood for all of this.”

 

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