Webster Rezoning Okayed, Setting Up Makeover

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(Editor's Note: this article was first published in the Norwood News, out now)

A plan to rezone Webster Avenue between East Gun Hill and Fordham roads was officially approved by the City Council at the end of March, the culmination of years of planning by local leaders and elected officials to help transform the 1.75-mile corridor.

“We worked very diligently over a five-year period to craft this proposal,” said Community Board 7 member Ozzie Brown, who said the plan lays the groundwork for a more vibrant and pedestrian-friendly Webster Avenue.

“We were able to set the context for what might happen in this region for the next 10, 15 years or so,” Brown said.

The new zoning allows a mix of residential and commercial spaces, with incentives to encourage the development of affordable housing. Webster Avenue’s previous zoning prohibited residential properties, and the gritty stretch of road is now comprised largely of auto-related and industrial businesses.

“Webster Avenue has been underdeveloped and underutilized,” said Bronx Council Member Oliver Koppell, who voted in favor of the plan at a hearing on March 23, where the rest of the Council approved it unanimously. “I am pleased that the Council has approved this rezoning, which is essential to transforming Webster Avenue into a vibrant, inviting and walkable area.”

Brown said Community Board 7 will work with the public and the Bronx’s major institutions over the next few months to draft a “Vision for Development,” a plan of what the community would like to see the neighborhood look like, which can then be presented to potential developers and investors.

“The potential there is really great,” he said. “We’d like to see bookstores — where can you go to buy a book in this area? We’d like to see some galleries there. We’d like to see family-style dining. We want to see a very significant shift that can help reprogram some crucial elements in our borough.”

Change won’t be immediate, however. A spokesperson for the Department of City Planning said the goals for rezoning are long-term, and that what happens in a particular neighborhood depends largely on the property owners and market conditions there.

Other Bronx neighborhoods have been similarly rezoned over the past few years. Like Webster Avenue, sections of Morrisania in the south Bronx were rezoned in 2003 to allow for residential housing where it had previously been prohibited. The area has since seen a small building boom and the development of over 900 affordable apartment units.

This fall, the City Council passed a similar plan for Third and East Tremont avenues, and a plan to rezone a stretch of East Fordham Road is currently under review.

The zoning changes also included the down-zoning of select blocks in Norwood and Bedford Park, a move designed to maintain the low-density character of those areas.