Preliminary plan calls for housing, businesses, parks
Bronx leaders are planning a waterfront district they say will rival Brooklyn Bridge Park – but a draft plan warns of steep challenges in building a neighborhood from scratch on a long-desolate flood zone.
The draft report from SoBRO, the Mott Haven-based development group, raises issues that also include pedestrian safety, waterfront access and site accessibility. The report, obtained by the Mott Haven Herald, comes amidst community members’ concerns about whether the development will have enough affordable housing – or potentially divide the neighborhood between the haves and the have-nots.
Dart Westphal, a board member of the Bronx Council for Environmental Quality, a non-profit coalition that has long advocated for a greenway along the river, doesn’t believe the grand waterfront vision is realistic.
“I will believe it when I see it,” he said. “I’m skeptical that anyone is going to do anything there except put in mini-storage because that’s all they’ve done so far.”
The mostly industrial South Bronx shore, initially approved for rezoning in 2009, is the subject of renewed attention after Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. highlighted the need for redevelopment there during his state of the borough address in February.
Diaz focused on a portion of SoBRO’s report that calls for shopping, housing, community facilities and public parks on the Grand Concourse between East 138th and East 149th streets.
“Right now it’s about drumming up interest and getting people to take a look at what’s going on,” said John DeSio, a spokesman for Diaz. “People have really seemed to be awakened to this in the last few weeks, so it’s very exciting.”
But designing major projects along the waterfront, particularly in the post-Sandy era, can be complicated – and expensive, some community advocates note. The draft plan mandates a 40-foot-deep waterfront yard and public walkway to run along the entire length of the new district, and suggests using a wetland to protect the shoreline rather than a bulkhead design.
Chauncy Young, a member of the Harlem River Working Group, said he supports the part of the plan that calls for a mandatory greenway along the waterfront, but noted that the waterfront would need to be lifted above flood levels.
“Though it looks interesting, it could take some time,” Young said, adding that he favors a plan that leans more heavily on waterfront restoration than housing.
Busy roads, unsafe for pedestrian traffic, currently cut off the waterfront site, which could become home to 2,000 apartments, under SoBRO’s plan. More roads would be needed too and existing ones repaved to accommodate the influx of people. New electrical and plumbing lines, schools and health facilities would be needed, along with an increase in public transportation options.
Some advocates who have long clamored for affordable housing and recreational opportunities along the waterfront say they will be watching to make sure those needs are addressed.
“It’s a really tricky scenario, especially when the borough president compares it to Brooklyn Bridge Park,” said Mychal Johnson, a spokesman for the grassroots organization, South Bronx Unite. “You have a really slim chance of getting one of those apartments.”
DeSio noted the waterfront redevelopment process is in the early stages. “We hope to take real steps here to revitalize and reinvigorate this waterfront,” he said.
The advocates hope residents will be invited to participate in future discussions of the project, and that their voices will be heard.
“Everybody wishes that someone would do something interesting along the Harlem River waterfront,” Westphal said. “I’d be interested in hearing what people think.”