Good evening and thank you for the opportunity to comment on the proposed land use actions. I’m Elena Conte, the Interim Executive Director of The Bronx River Alliance, which serves as a coordinated voice for the river and works in harmonious partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor, greenway and parks so that they can be a healthy ecological, recreational, educational and economic resources for the communities through which the river flows.
We welcome investment in the river corridor when it serves to advance the goals and plans of the surrounding communities. The sites under consideration have long occupied a significant place in the communities’ hopes, dreams, and plans – dating back at least twenty years with the community plan to decommission the Sheridan Expressway and create new spaces to meet community needs.
Creating public waterfront access along this portion of the river and providing deeply affordable housing at the levels that match community needs were – and remain – two central components of that vision. We appreciate that the proposal before you gives a nod to these goals, but unfortunately, in its current form, it falls too short of them, while introducing some new concerns, and so tonight we are urging the Community Board to vote no, without significant modifications.
We are concerned that the official documents accompanying the action understate the impacts and wish to highlight our concerns based on our intimate relationship to the river and close connection to the surrounding communities. We describe the modifications that we believe are necessary, and we are asking tonight for your support in getting them addressed.
To be good neighbor, new uses should serve the community
- Housing affordability
Since our origins as a working group of local community organizations, we have advocated to ensure that housing affordability to prevent displacement of longtime residents is a priority in new developments. The proposed project is likely to include more than 1,000 units and the rent levels of the units are in no way guaranteed. The levels that the expected subsidy package would make possible are very far outside the range of what more than 80% of people in the neighborhood could afford. If neighborhood residents can’t afford to live there, it’s not a true community resource. We call for stronger commitments from both the City and the development group for the provision of deeply affordable housing.
- Public access to the waterfront – for safety and operations and for the general public
The river is a public resource which no one entity can possess, and access to the river in the area should only be preserved and expanded by new actions. What the proposal does get right is the intention to create new public waterfront access on the sites. Any new access should be – both in practice and in “feel” – truly an extension of the Bronx River Greenway. Privately owned and managed public spaces should align with the hours and accessibility standards of surrounding parks. Similarly, preexisting essential access points should not be compromised in any way.
Preserving the ecology of the river and the quality of the parks
- Stormwater capture
Stormwater and combined sewer overflows are among the major sources of pollution that compromise the quality of the Bronx River, the health of its habitats, and the ability of people to truly enjoy its natural beauty. As such, we urge that all new developments in the watershed achieve 100% stormwater capture on site.
- Ongoing investment in parks and river maintenance
Maintenance for the Bronx River and Greenway and parks is currently chronically underfunded – and greater park usage only increases the demand for maintenance. The influx of residents in nearly 1,000 new units will dramatically increase the need for river and parks maintenance. The restoration of the river and the creation of new parks has had a direct impact on the value of land in the corridor, and new developments should contribute – in an ongoing, substantial way – to that maintenance.
The 24-story towers that are proposed would cast substantial shadows in the afternoon, covering the full width of the river, impacting American eels and river herring. Any design changes that would reduce these impacts would be welcome, greatly improve the proposal, and support, rather than detract, from decades of efforts at habitat restoration.
Supporting the resources provided to the community by the Bronx River Alliance
- Overflow lot
There is parkland out of which the Bronx River Alliance operates daily that is essential to our programming on the river and in Starlight and Concrete Plant Parks, as well as the safety of the river, that is directly adjacent to the proposed zoning area. Also known as the “Overflow Lot” this area is used for horticultural staging, keeping specialized watercraft used for water quality monitoring and other equipment that can’t be housed elsewhere, as well as space for canoes in large events. Every square foot of this parkland is in active, essential use, and altering the footprint would greatly diminish our capacity to serve the community.
- Space for additional programming
The active use of this lot is indicative of the tremendous demand for programming and space for the community along the Bronx River. Ground floor uses in new developments should make affordable space available to community uses, including the Bronx River Alliance.
To address these concerns, we urge the following modifications
- Guarantees about providing deeply affordable housing
From both the City and the developers – detail about the specific subsidy package that would be applied for; what specific mix of levels it would achieve; the conditions that could cause that affordability not to materialize, and what the developer would do in that instance to fulfill a commitment.
- It’s essential that the development captures 100% of the stormwater that falls on the site to minimize impacts on water quality.
- Substantial financial commitment that would provide ongoing (30 years) support for the maintenance of Starlight Park and the river, at the level of funding multiple staff members.
Building on the precedent established by the Riverside Center zoning action which included a developer contribution to Riverside Park and the recreation center, we urge that the action require developer payments into a Bronx River & Greenway maintenance and programming fund that would support the long-term viability and maintenance of the Bronx River Greenway. There are various ways to accomplish this: ongoing commitments or a one-time contribution. The latter could be per unit, payable upon completion of each unit and placed in escrow for parks maintenance and programs. But it must be used in a way that generates an ongoing stream for it to be meaningful.
- Ensure that the Overflow Lot’s functionality and existing uses are preserved; support the creation of an additional 1200 sq ft of permanent storage space.
- Supporting the MTA to provide ADA access to Whitlock Avenue station within 12 months of project completion.
- Design changes that would reduce the impact of the shadows.
If you would also like to see these changes to the project, we urge you to vote no tonight. We look forward to continuing to be in conversation with all stakeholders who are invested in the future of this area to ensure that its future truly aligns with community values and needs.