There are parts of the city that look like the place where two maps got taped together and the edges don’t quite match up. They are like the blindspots in a car. They’re the leftovers created when one city landscape meets another.
In the land-hungry New York of 2019, these are the kinds of places where housing is now being built.
In the north central Bronx lay one such spot on a hill between the major thoroughfare of Webster Avenue and the quiet, steep arc of Parkside Place, two streets that run parallel to one another in a north-south orientation for a few hundred feet just south of Gun Hill Road. The hill dropped a vertical 40 feet or so and stretched about 50 feet along the ground from the eastern edge of Parkside to the western curb of Webster.
Until a few months ago, the hill was a funky splash of green on a utilitarian stretch of Webster. Across the street are some auto-repair shops, a defunct car wash and a Con Edison facility. (Full disclosure: I have lived in the neighborhood for 17 years and have owned a home two blocks from this site since 2010.)
Now the hill is gone, exposing a sheer face of rock. The trees have disappeared. The site has been leveled in anticipation of a new residential building that will rise five stories (72 feet) and contain 98 apartments.
At present, the site owners are only permitted to do the “earthwork” on the site – no laying a foundation or starting to build. That’s because their bare-bones application for a new construction permit was rejected for being incomplete, which is not unusual. They’re awaiting zoning approval, too. According to the city’s ZoLa database, the area is zoned as “open space” but a City Planning spokesperson tells City Limits that the city “previously determined that the site was not needed for public use.”
The site owner and architects did not respond to emails. Renderings of the building published last year on YIMBY show an impressive structure rising above the hill with a front on Parkside Place. Residents with windows on the east side of the building will have interesting views of the leafy banks of the Bronx River. At night, they will hear the muted sound of the 2 or 5 train rolling along the elevated tracks across the Bronx River Parkway, the train’s lights sliding past the Gun Hill Houses in the background.
The building will be one of a slew of new high-rises to spring up along Webster in the Norwood neighborhood in the past five years. A Bloomberg-era rezoning has transformed Community District 7 from one of the quietest real-estate markets to one of the busiest. In the year 2000, not a single new unit received a certificate of occupancy in the district. Last year, there was paperwork for 749, according to the Furman Center.
The parcel between Parkside and Webster reflects the shifting fortunes of the city and borough. In 1974 it was one of nearly 2,000 pieces of property that became city assets through tax foreclosure. Four years later, the city sold it to a man named Mohamed Aly, who appears to have owned a parking business. The price was $1,900. All indications are that nothing happened on the site for decades. In March 2018, Aly’s family sold it to the current owner for $1.6 million. Crudely speaking, that’s an 850 percent return on Mr. Aly’s investment 40 years ago.
These are the kind of transactions playing out in New York’s housing market these days. A family makes a windfall on what was once, for a few years anyway, public land. A neighborhood loses a hillside and some trees but gains 98 apartments. The question is, if they’re building on steep hillsides now, where will the Bronx’s development boom go next?