Tempers flare at Community Board 1

Mott Haven resident Aazam Otero urged Community Board 1 to consider a garden rather than new buildings on 149th St. and Southern Boulevard.

Protesters blast development plan

A heated war of words erupted at Community Board 1’s February meeting as protesters shouted down a developer and a city housing official’s efforts to explain the city’s plans to construct Crossroads Plaza.

The board voted to approve the city’s request for a zoning change that would allow the three-building complex to be built at the corner of 149th Street and Southern Boulevard, but had to do so over the catcalls, jeers and sometimes profane objections of some 30 protesters who had cleared the lot of debris and turned it into the Morning Glory Garden.

“It’s a great site at the intersection of three major streets,” said Ted Weinstein, director of planning for the Department of Housing Development and Preservation in the Bronx, adding “it will bring a lot of people to the area.”

As he spoke, protesters standing on the sidewalk outside the community board’s Third Avenue office banged on the window and held up a sign reading “People over Profit,” with drawings of vegetables.

John McGrath, an official for Easter Seals in New York, said that the proposed eight-story Easter Seals building slated for the site was needed if children with special needs were to be served.

But the protesters loudly countered that the gardens they had grown are the best use of the land, and charged that the city was working for the benefit of the plan’s high-profile developer while excluding poor residents.

“I am a gardener from that lot and I am frustrated that these people come into our community and take our land,” said Samuel J. Gompers HS student Sony Cabral. “Can anybody in a suit please define gentrification for me?” he asked Weinstein and Douglaston representative Matt Feldman.

“What programs are subsidizing the developments?” asked gardener Aazam Otero, who also questioned the financing of the project and the affordability of the rents in the planned 13- and 15-story apartment buildings.

A half-dozen homeowners and renters representing the group We Are Mott Haven attended the evening meeting to express their own grievances to the board over a development for the mentally ill slated for 144th Street and Brook Avenue near their homes. The homeowners have argued at past board meetings that the development would further destabilize a neighborhood already saturated with social services, adding they were not advised of the project in time to effectively oppose it, and they believe elected officials who represent Mott Haven and Melrose have abandoned them.

The homeowners ceded their own public speaking time to allow Otero to continue addressing the garden group’s complaints, shouting “Let the young man speak” while others yelled, “This is what democracy looks like.”

“You’re all on the take,” yelled Louie Melendez of We Are Mott Haven, as the group angrily walked out, chanting, “We voted you in, we will vote you out,” along with the gardeners. The community board is appointed by elected officials, none of whom were present.