Residents want assurances of affordable housing and local jobs
Port Morris and Mott Haven residents sounded off Thursday night on plans to redevelop the Special Harlem River Waterfront District, demanding more information about the number of jobs and affordable housing units the proposal would generate for Bronx residents.
The South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (SoBRO) community visioning session in the Betances Community Center gave residents a chance to respond to the organization’s proposal to add over 1 million square-feet of residential space; 865,000 square-feet of commercial space; and 269,000 square-feet of community space to the Port Morris waterfront.
During two hours of public comment, many expressed concerns over whether the project would actually benefit them.
“Developers, their bottom line is money. I think vacation homes when I think waterfront,” said a skeptical Annette Danes, 55, who has lived in the area for more than 20 years.
In April, the Special Harlem River Waterfront District was officially designated a Brownfield Opportunity Area, which the State defines as any property where redevelopment is hampered by the presence of hazardous waste and pollutants. The Department of State’s Brownfield Opportunity Area Program funded SoBRO to come up with a strategy that would revitalize the waterfront.
Development projects within the designated opportunity areas are eligible for special tax incentive programs and receive “priority and preference” for state grants, according to the Department of State. Mayor de Blasio has also committed to providing $200 million to develop the infrastructure needed to support the development.
SoBRO’s Phase One Visioning Study, published last November, includes commercial zoning that would accommodate restaurants, retail shops and entertainment facilities that could include a movie theater, art galleries and bowling alleys.
The organization estimates that the project could yield between 2,000 and 8,500 housing units. But it is unclear how many developers are interested in building apartments that would be affordable for Bronx residents.
“Some are committed to affordable housing. There are others that have only done market rate apartments,” said Michael Brady, SoBRO’s Director of Special Projects and Governmental Relations.
Darren Hornig, CEO of Hornig Capital Partners, says all rental units at 2415 Third Ave. will be affordable. Calls for comment from other developers who have purchased properties in the catchment area — Somerset Partners-Chetrit Group, and Pantheon Properties — were not immediately returned.
Along with housing, the meeting participants focused on local jobs. New development could create as many as 3,544 new jobs, according to the office of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. But residents wanted to know whether those would be union jobs, whether Bronx residents would get priority for construction work generated by the redevelopment and how many permanent jobs the project would create overall.
After the meeting, Mychal Johnson, co-founder of local advocacy group South Bronx Unite, expressed dissatisfaction with SoBRO’s answers.
“I think it needs to be clarified. I think it wasn’t clear at the meeting what type of jobs will be created. Will they be temporary jobs? How many will be full time, and what rate will they pay?”
While many expressed apprehension, Javier Medrano, 26, was among those excited to see the lower concourse revitalized.
“I think it’s awesome. I think it’s about time the Bronx gets recognized and gets developed,” Medrano said before the meeting began.
In the coming weeks, SoBRO will submit its final report to the State Department of State and will provide its final recommendations for the waterfront.