On Wednesday evening, it was at first hard to predict that Community Board 5 members would end up divided on the city’s proposed rezoning of Jerome Avenue in the western Bronx. From the first hour of remarks, it seemed more likely the board would vote unanimously in favor of the rezoning, which would encourage commercial and housing development along the avenue, including a portion of below-market housing.
Instead of asking hard questions of the Department of City Planning staff, the board offered praise. Chair Bola Omotosho referred to board planning efforts that began two decades ago and said “communities have been yearning for rezoning” for years and that “City Planning did not come to us; we asked them to come to us”—a reference to the fact that the board and Councilmember Fernando Cabrera helped get the rezoning study, originally concentrated in board 4, extended north to board 5. Older board members have long called for investments in revitalization and economic development along the corridor.
As at the previous night’s board 4 vote, Councilmember Vanessa Gibson delivered a list of the neighborhood investments that have been made, or will be, in conjunction with the plan, as well as stressed the progress made by the Council on a variety of citywide initiatives—from instituting a right to counsel in housing court to passing protections for construction workers. City Planning’s Michael Parkinson talked about other commitments in the Neighborhood Plan. The protestors weren’t as loud or as numerous as at Tuesday night’s board 4 meeting, though at one point a couple police officers tried to get a protestor to stop speaking.
When it came to the vote itself, things grew more complicated and confusing. First, a board member read aloud a resolution for a “yes/no” vote on the rezoning with a set of conditions—a variety of anti-displacement strategies, investment in immigrant resources, the creation of a new school, and many others.
But some expressed alarm that this resolution, handed out at the meeting, had been abbreviated from a longer version—that offered more criticism of the existing plan— drafted by board member Pierina Ana Sanchez and distributed to all the members on Tuesday. That full resolution, while acknowledging all the time and effort invested in the planning by board members and other stakeholders throughout the years, included several pages expressing concerns about the ways the rezoning could exacerbate displacement and generate housing that wasn’t sufficiently affordable, and the fact that it may take billions of dollars to correct inequality rooted in structural racism. Chair Omotosho said the board was voting on the original, longer version, which would be included in an appendix, but it wasn’t entirely clear why the more critical parts weren’t read out loud.
A couple of the more skeptical board members then said they were taking a position of “no with recommendations” on the rezoning; Sanchez, for one, explained she wished to stress that a rezoning would only be beneficial if all their recommendations had the administration’s support. Others argued that it was more strategic to say “yes with recommendations” to get the administration’s ear and one board member commented that some of the critical members were relatively new faces on the board.
The chair then called a vote, though one member expressed confusion about what exactly was being voted on. Ultimately, there were 11 no votes, 18 yes votes, and one abstention (while not stated clearly, it appeared a vote of “yes” meant “yes with recommendations” to the rezoning, while a vote of no was interpreted as “no with recommendations”). This followed a vote on Tuesday at Community Board 4 of 32 to four, with some abstentions, for a rezoning with conditions. Community Board 7, which overlaps with a few blocks of the rezoning, will vote on Thursday evening.
Going forward, the Bronx borough president followed by the City Planning Commission and finally the City Council will each weigh in on the rezoning. The Bronx borough president intends to hold a hearing on the rezoning on Thursday November 2, 851 Grand Concourse, Room 600 at 5:30 p.m.
The Department of Housing Preservation and Development and local councilmembers are hosting a Property Owners Clinic to connect property owners to resources that will help them make repairs and keep apartments affordable to tenants. The clinic will be on Tuesday, November 14 from 4:30 pm to 7 p.m. at Apple Bank’s 101 E. 170th Street branch location.