The proposal has encountered resistance from would-be neighbors and local Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, who’ve cited concerns about impact on infrastructure, parking and the area’s suburban feel. But one planning commissioner who voted in favor of the project Wednesday believes the opposition is driven by a rejection of affordable housing.
The New York City Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal to upzone a strip of Bruckner Boulevard Wednesday, clearing a hurdle for a 349-unit housing plan that still faces stiff opposition from the local councilmember whose vote is key to its future.
All 11 planning commissioners present at the meeting backed an application to revise low-density zoning rules across four blocks overlooking the Bruckner Expressway, in the Throggs Neck section of The Bronx. The lots are located along the edge of a neighborhood characterized by one-, two- and three-unit households. The application was submitted by Throggs Neck Associates LLC, a limited liability company tied to the property owners—including Joseph Bivona, the owner of a Super FoodTown grocery store located on one of the parcels—who hope to build four apartment buildings, including two reaching eight stories.
The proposed development has encountered fierce resistance from would-be neighbors, who have described concerns about the impact on infrastructure, parking and the area’s suburban feel at public hearings and community board meetings. Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez, who represents the area, has so far sided with those residents. Her stance is crucial to the future of the rezoning proposal because the full Council typically votes in accordance with the local member on land use decisions in their district.
But the new buildings will include 168 apartments with rents capped for low- and middle-income tenants, including 99 apartments under the city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) rules, with some specifically for seniors. Overall, 99 units will be reserved for seniors, while 22 will be set aside for veterans through a program operated by the Tunnels to Towers Foundation.* Rents in the income-restricted apartments will vary but will be priced for tenants earning an average of 80 percent of Area Median Income—about $96,000 for a family of three.
That’s more income-restricted housing than the entire council district where the lots are located produced over the last eight years, according to a review of city data by the New York Housing Conference.
With New York City mired in a decades-long housing crisis, and rents soaring as homelessness rises, planning commissioners said the proposal was too important to pass up. Planning Commissioner Leah Goodridge, a tenants rights attorney, said she is usually sympathetic to local community members’ concerns but believes opposition to the Bruckner rezoning is driven by a rejection of affordable housing.
“Neighborhood character is an important factor in development—skyscrapers right next to a brownstone might not mesh,” she said. “But sometimes ‘neighborhood character’ is really just code for ‘We don’t want low income housing. We don’t want a more racially diverse neighborhood.’”
The commission’s chair, Dan Garodnick, was absent for the vote, but said the project would help relieve New York City’s housing crisis.
“We must be a city of yes, and every neighborhood has to be part of the solution,” Garodnick said. “It’s projects like this that help pave the way for a more equitable New York City.”
Still, Velázquez said she was not swayed by that perspective. She has sided with the residents who oppose the plan, including Bronx Community Board 10, which voted last month to reject the housing proposal in their advisory capacity.
“As this project finds its way through the land use process, I continue to oppose the Bruckner proposal,” Velázquez told City Limits in a statement. “It is my belief that any development in my diverse district needs to garner local support, provide local housing and local jobs, have union support, and have real affordability.”
The proposal received conditional support from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson, who urged the developers to reduce the height of one of the eight-story buildings to five stories. Bronx Community Board 10 voted to reject the application. Both opinions are advisory but can influence Council decision-making.
The Planning Commission vote was the last step in the city land use process before the application heads to the Council for a committee hearing, followed by a full vote.
In the face of member opposition all but certain to doom their plans, some developers have opted to pull a rezoning application rather than make major changes or see the proposal die at the Council stage. That is what happened to proposals to rezone a piece of West 145th Street and Industry City in Sunset Park.
But in this case, the property owners are sticking with the plan, said Sam Goldstein, a spokesperson for Throggs Neck Associates LLC, the development team behind the project.
“This is the right project at the right time for our community and our city,” Goldstein said. “This is a significant investment in our community that represents opportunity.”
*This story has been updated with more information on the number of and average rents in the proposed income-restricted units.