On Wednesday, the City Planning Commission approved the De Blasio administration’s proposed rezoning of Jerome Avenue in the western Bronx, sending the administration’s fourth neighborhood rezoning to the City Council for a final vote. Commissioner Michelle de La Uz voted against the proposal, and Commissioner Joseph Douek was not present.
The 92-block rezoning would encourage residential and commercial development along Jerome Avenue and some surrounding streets, with all developers required to make a portion of the housing income-targeted under the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing policy. The rezoning is part of a larger, multi-agency plan for the neighborhood including public realm and park improvements, strategies to combat displacement and to preserve existing affordable housing, subsidy for additional affordable units, investments in small businesses and workforce training, and resources for other community needs.
The rezoning approved Wednesday was a slightly revised version put forth by the Department of City Planning in November. The revisions included adding more sites to the rezoning area to facilitate the development of more income-targeted housing and allowing second-story retail along Jerome Avenue as-of-right. According to the city’s estimates, the revisions would increase the number of projected or potential development sites from 146 to 155. The Commission itself did not make any further modifications.
“More than just the rezoning, the Jerome Avenue Neighborhood Plan represents the goals and visions for an active, safe, healthy and vibrant corridor that serves the community,” said Commission Chairwoman Marisa Lago, who thanked all the stakeholders for their input and for making sure “the goals stay big and that the conversation remains broad, going beyond just zoning.”
Lago said the proposal would broaden the permitted uses of the corridor to allow for housing including income-targeted housing, community facilities including schools, a greater diversity of commercial establishments, more parkland, improved building design, and the redevelopment of sites that are challenging to build on. She also acknowledged that there are concerns about the proposal, but said that city agencies will “continue working on implementation and addressing problems in real time.” Some initiatives are already underway to address neighborhood concerns, she said, including, among others, the city’s new Certificate of No Harassment pilot program, which applies to certain buildings and neighborhoods and requires landlords to prove they are not harassing tenants before receiving permits to do building work.
De la Uz voted against the rezoning. While acknowledging the benefits of the Certificate of No Harassment pilot program and the creation of a universal right-to-counsel for low-income tenants in housing court, she said the city’s proposal “lacks a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the increased displacement risk for the existing rent-stabilized housing stock.”
She also said that while she supports “activating the corridor and limiting conflicting uses,” she felt the city didn’t have an adequate plan in place to support the relocation of auto-sector businesses that she says will be displaced by the rezoning. “No comprehensive analysis was done of how those auto-businesses are interdependent and who is in those jobs,” she said. “The city continues to reduce areas zoned for manufacturing throughout the city without a comprehensive assessment of how those changes may cumulatively impact goods and services New Yorkers need and the decent jobs [that could be] lost, [employment accessible] often to immigrants and individuals with limited education. This is inconsistent with the mayor’s 100,000 jobs plan.”
Orlando Marin, the Bronx Borough president’s appointee to the commission, voted in favor of the plan but also expressed concerns. He called for the city to further investigate and resolve issues that came up in the environmental analysis of the rezoning, and in particular expressed concerns about the potential loss of auto-businesses and jobs, the need for more school seats, the importance of continued conversations about job training and placement, and the necessity of ensuring the certificate of no harassment program is ready to roll out.
Commissioner Larisa Ortiz also voted yes but expressed concerns about the rezoning creating more space for retail than could be realistically supported by demand. “The retail industry is going through significant changes that calls for us to revisit our age-old assumptions about what makes a great street,” she said, saying that especially in low-income communities, the city should be thinking about concentrating retail more densely. In addition, she reiterated concerns about damaging the corridor’s auto cluster and insufficient plans for relocating auto businesses.
Vice chairman Kenneth Knuckles said he supported the comments of both Lago and Marin.
In the hallway outside the hearing, others expressed their frustration with the decision. Bronx Coalition member and organizer Lee Kallman called the vote a “massive insult to every member of this community” who had come to testify at hearings against the proposal, and expressed concerns about the displacement of residents and insufficient guarantees that development would lead to good, safe jobs with training for local residents. Dian Hawkins, a resident and CASA member said she feared the rezoning would result in “overcrowding [of] transportation, more crime, and lack of resources, especially for the children, the overcrowding of schools, and loss of jobs also, especially for those mom and pop stores that are being pushed out. “
Brian Murphy, a Local 40 ironworker from Throggs Neck, expressed concerns that the new housing would be built by non-union workers without training “I believe in affordable housing—it should be for everybody—but they should also build it safe, build it right.”
The city also on Wednesday released a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the plan, which includes updates on its efforts to mitigate some of the potential impacts of the rezoning that were earlier identified by the city. When it comes to addressing the serious school overcrowding that the city predicts will be exacerbated by the rezoning, the EIS notes that that the city is moving forward with the expansion of an existing annex at P.S. 33, which will add 388 seats to School District 10—”reduc[ing], but not elimin[ating]” the overcrowding problem. Beyond that, School Construction Authority (SCA) commits to monitoring the issue and responding over time.
“If a need for additional capacity is identified, [the Department of Education] will evaluate the appropriate timing and mix of measures … to address increased school enrollment,” the EIS states, adding that “if additional school construction is warranted, and if funding is available” it will be added to future capital plans.
According to the EIS, every school subdistrict affected by the rezoning already faced an overall school shortage of elementary school seats in the 2015-2016 school year.
The EIS says the city has found ways to partially mitigate transportation and construction impacts, but that there would be “unavoidable adverse impacts” on shadows and on some aspects of transportation and construction.
With the City Planning Commission’s sanction, the plan now moves to the City Council, which has 50 days to take action on the proposal. All eyes are now on Bronx councilmembers Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera, whose districts cover the rezoning footprint, to negotiate the plan’s final details.