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It is not easy for Geronimo Jordan to get down the stairs of the 170th Street 4-train station, because he has a swollen leg. But his primary concern is for the young mothers he sees lugging strollers up or down the stairs, especially when snow and ice make for more difficult footing. He’d like to see a ramp or elevator there. “It’s difficult for me but these mothers are alone and they could fall and hurt themselves,” Jordan told a public meeting last week.
The 170th Street 4-train stop is in the the heart of the area affected by the 2018 Jerome Avenue rezoning, one of the most fiercely contested of the neighborhood redevelopment plans pursued by the de Blasio administration. Spanning a 92-block area including the Jerome Avenue corridor, the rezoning requires a percentage of new development to be income-targeted under the city’s mandatory inclusionary housing program and includes a $189 million in capital investments ranging from affordable housing and economic development to open space and education.
The points of agreement negotiated between the de Blasio administration and local City Councilmembers Vanessa Gibson and Fernando Cabrera also included the establishment of the Jerome Avenue Public Health Taskforce.
Last month, dozens of Bronx residents and community members gathered inside Walker Memorial Baptist Church to attend the task force’s last public forum, where Bronx residents had the opportunity to share their opinions on what concerns should be addressed in order to improve the overall health of their community.
The task force includes more than a dozen Bronx-based members, ranging from housing advocacy groups and educational institutions to local elected officials and community boards. It has been charged with compiling a “check-list” based on the recommendations made during the two public forums (one was held in June and another in October this year)
The check-list will then be used as a standard for projects or programs undertaken as part of the rezoning. If the [project or program] does not meet the standard of the report than the project will have to be further reviewed or revised,” said Wendy Gallegos, Chief of Staff for Councilmember Vanessa Gibson.
The city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) has been working with the task force to help navigate how the community and city could address issues like safety, housing, physical environment, the food landscape and more that could impact the overall public health of the community.
At the final meeting, residents lined up to share some of their observations. Residents said they wanted more opportunities to learn how to obtain vendor licenses, easier access to fresh produce and healthier food pantry options to address food disparities. In a June task force report, community members commented on issues such as transit, infrastructure, rising costs, housing, public safety, access to healthy foods and community resources such as parks, open space and programs for teens and children.
After Jordan spoke about the train station stairs Dr. Jane Bedell, the assistant commissioner and medical director for DOHMH, agreed with Jordan on making that a top concern and Gallegos chimed in to say she knew the MTA board had approved the budget for a 170th Street station elevator a few weeks ago but could not give a start date on the project.
Final report coming
The Task Force final report, scheduled to be released early next year, could shape projects and programs, including housing and local economic development within the purview of the 2018 Jerome Avenue rezoning.
Gallegos says the task force came to fruition after health concerns kept coming up during the negotiations over the rezoning. “So we wanted to come up with a profound way to continue the discussion and have something that is ongoing,” she said.
According to the points of agreement, the task force will “develop and implement a Neighborhood Health Plan to address health outcomes in the Jerome Avenue Study area” with local partners ranging from community-based organizations to residents to the healthcare sector over an 18-month period. The plan will address key community health priorities within Bronx community districts 4 and 5, “including healthy food access, air quality and environmental health, access to healthcare, and construction mitigation strategies (including noise, pollutants, pest control, etc.).”
Bedell said during the public forum in October that community health is interconnected to many issues such as transit, education, economic development to housing and the task force would help in addressing those concerns through a public health lens.
Community advocates agree that addressing health will require a broad view. “It is important to get down to some of the core of the health concerns and that means we also try to deal with improving and getting more housing. For me, getting more housing for seniors, more housing for people with disabilities, more housing for young people and beyond is an important measure of public health,” said Carmen Vega-Rivera, a resident and CASA tenant organizer, who joined the task force.
Rivera said the rezoning is already having tangible effects on development in the area. “I have whiplash. Every time I turn around or look up, something new is being developed on 161st Street,” she said.
Several residential and mixed-use development project applications have been filed with the city such as a 15-story building at 1331 Jerome Avenue, slated for commercial, residential, and community facilities to the neighborhood, including some affordable housing. At 2700 Jerome Avenue, a newly-constructed 13-story development offers 135 residential units, with commercial retail space and some parking spaces opened its doors in June. Other sites such as 1450 Cromwell Avenue and 1475 Macombs Avenue are for sale and zoned for R8, where buildings can reach between eight- to ten-story buildings. Both lots are in the middle of the rezoned area.
On November 5th, a$3.5 billion development project, Fordham Landing, spanning 40 acres along the Harlem River waterfront was announced.. It neighbors Fordham Heights, which is within the Jerome Avenue rezoning boundaries. The mixed-use (commercial and residential) structure is slated to include a total of 2,380 residential units, of which 1,660 will be market-rate apartments and 720 will be affordable housing units. The development has plans to include student housing, a public school, a research center, retail and commercial office space, an e-sports arena, community facilities and new waterfront access with riverfront amenities such as paddleboards and kayaks.
At least some of that development is intended to address community needs. Last month, city agencies joined Services for the UnderServed, Bronx Pro Group LLC, Enterprise Community Partners, and community members celebrated the groundbreaking of Jerome Avenue Apartments at 1769 Jerome Avenue, a 16-story building with 175 units of housing, including 105 supportive housing units for formerly homeless individuals and families with mental health or substance abuse issues.
Other publicly owned sites had their request for proposals issued this year and are under review by the city’s Housing Preservation and Development. Some are for commercial and residential mixed-use and others are 100 percent affordable housing. They include the senior housing site on 97 West 169th Street or the 100 percent affordable housing building slated for 1640-1642 Anthony Avenue.
Additionally, according to the city’s Department of Social Services and Human Resources Administration data, from March 2018 through March 2019, 532 homeless families and individuals displaced from Jerome Avenue moved into permanent housing, and of those families and individuals, 98 moved back to Jerome Avenue with this rental assistance.
According to the city’s rezoning tracker, since the rezoning was adopted 355 new affordable homes have been created under the mandatory inclusionary housing policy and HPD financed the preservation of 1,400 affordable homes. The rezoning tracker is updated every summer). Last year in July, construction began for two buildings slated to bring 500 new affordable homes, of which over 110 units will serve households earning extremely low and very low incomes. Several city initiatives such as Neighborhood Pillars Program, Landlord Ambassadors, Right to Counsel, Certificate of No Harassment and Partners in Preservations among others have been ongoing and some have had been funded further through the city budget to continue the program.
Meanwhile, the city’s School Construction Authority and Department of Education has identified 1302 Edward L. Grant Highway near 169th Street as a future District 9 elementary school which will hold approximately 458 seats. Design begins next year and construction is scheduled to be completed by September 2023.
The existing Middle School 363 on East 184th Street has been funded for construction of adding another new 458 seat primary school and the goal of opening a new school in September 2023. Other investments will include adding 388 elementary seats to a Public School 33 Annex to be completed in 2021 and creating a stand-alone gymnasium at Public School 246-Poe Center to be completed in the fall of 2020.
Other measures include another smaller rezoning,of the school districts, a part of the city’s education district planning process, to create a new zone for a brand new school. According to the city’s Department of Education website, a rezoning of a school district could address issues of a changing community such as reducing overcrowding, assess school size and sustainability, opening new charter or district schools, restructuring existing schools and identifying much-needed resources.
Design for Corporal Fischer Park on West 170th St. began in 2018 and is expected to be completed by winter 2020 and the Grant Avenue Park renovation and expansion design process started last year; there is no expected completion date as of yet. Construction for Bridge Park is underway and a new park design is slated for the property on 801-1805 Davidson Avenue in 2020.The city’s Department of Parks and Recreation also has a planning study underway which will look at ways to increase and improve access of Aqueduct Walk and design is ongoing for reconstruction of Morton Playground.
Other investments include more NYPD security cameras on Jerome Avenue which is slated to be completed this December and pedestrian safety measures such as improving cross walks and repaving key streets along the corridor, such as east 179th Street between Jerome Avenue and Grand Concourse; Creston Avenue from east 178th Street to east 183rd Street; east 163rd Street from Grand Concourse to Teller Avenue, and Sheridan Avenue from east 161st Street to east 167th Street.
The city’s Small Business Services hired a “Jerome Program Manager” to oversee all business and workforce strategies related to the Jerome Avenue rezoning and are in the planning stages of organizing an auto-worker training program to alleviate the displacement of the auto-repair industry that was impacted by the rezoning (you can read more in our coverage of the auto-repair industry) among other small business related initiatives.