Massive mixed-use project edges closer

Five buildings ranging between eight and 25 stories are planned, consisting of 992 apartments, a 50,000 square-foot YMCA, 45,000 square feet of retail space, two acres of open space and community and educational facilities. But some residents are worried about the strain on public transportation and an increase in traffic once the project wraps up in three years.

An architect's rendering of the proposed La Central complex near the Hub.
An architect’s rendering of the proposed La Central complex near the Hub.

Developers unveil multi-layered La Central proposal

A team of developers, property managers and social service administrators spearheading the La Central development being proposed in Melrose, came before Community Board 1 in mid-April, promising a complex they say will transform a five-block swath of derelict lots into a residential and commercial Xanadu.

In all, the proposal calls for 1.1 million square feet of retail, residential, nonprofit and open space on city-owned land between 149th and 155th streets along Bergen Avenue. Five buildings ranging between eight and 25 stories are planned, consisting of 992 apartments, a 50,000 square-foot YMCA, 45,000 square feet of retail space, a music education center, a new studio for BronxNet TV, 209 indoor parking spaces, office space for the social service group Breaking Ground, a skate park, a daycare center and almost two acres of private and public open space.

More than three-quarters of the apartments will be subsidized for tenants earning between 40 and 80 percent of the city’s Area Median Income, and 97 more will go to formerly homeless tenants. The northernmost building, the tallest of the five planned buildings at 25 stories, will house a rooftop observatory that will be operated by the Bronx High School of Science.

Aaron Koffman, a principal at Hudson Companies Inc., told the board the proposal is cutting edge eco-friendly, with rooftop gardens and solar paneling that will generate 600,000 watts of power, offering both conservation and savings for tenants. The complex will be “the most sustainable of its kind in New York City,” he said, adding the developers’ intent is “not just about being cool and futuristic, but about respect.”

Ted Weinstein, director of Bronx Planning for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, told the board that La Central is “the largest project I’ve ever come in front of you to talk about.” To illustrate its enormity, he held out a three-inch-thick stack of documents resulting from the Uniform Land Use process (ULURP) required for the proposal, and joked that, as a housing administrator, “you get something that looks like this.”

But as the planners extolled the project’s eventual benefits to Melrose in trying to win the board’s support as part of the ULURP process, some board members instead worried about the radical changes it could impose on the neighborhood.

“You’re adding 3,000 additional people and that’s not going to have an impact?” said Arline Parks, chair of Board 1’s land use and planning committee. She and others pointed out that public transportation in and around the 2/5 subway stop, a block from the building site, is already overstressed. The trains are choked with commuters already, they argued, as are buses.

“Sometimes you have to let a couple of trains go by before you can get on,” said Board 1 member Hakiem Yahmadi. “It’s an ongoing problem.”

But MTA community relations liaison Jacqueline Carter tried to reassure them that the transportation agency will respond to the challenges before construction is completed in 2019.

“You can’t look at transportation as it is now,” Carter said. “Changes can happen in four years.”

Koffman responded that an environmental impact statement showed La Central “did not create an adverse burden on the existing transit system.”

Mott Haven resident Gloria Cruz said congestion problems that are already a headache in the Hub will get worse unless traffic agents are assigned to the area.

“The only time I saw a traffic agent was when Bernie was here,” said Cruz, recalling the March 31 campaign rally at St. Mary’s Park that drew nearly 19,000 to Mott Haven in one afternoon. “All these cars, all these people are going to come.”

Board members also worried that a construction project of such monumental scope would worsen the Hub’s rat infestation, and that the area already feels seedy, with poor lighting and spillover from the area’s dozen methadone clinics. But Koffman tried to assuage their concerns, saying oversight by city inspectors will be intense.

“You’re under so much scrutiny with these jobs,” he said. “We’ll do our best.”

Despite the developers’ assurances that the project will bring more than 2,000 construction jobs to the neighborhood over the next three years and an estimated 450 full time jobs once it is complete—-and despite promises of nearly 700 apartments classified as affordable housing—- some residents are skeptical locals will benefit.

Mill Brook Houses resident and Board 1 member Cesar Yoc said the numbers don’t add up. Just 29 of the 992 apartments planned at La Central are proposed for applicants making as little as 40 percent of the Area Median Income, $23,465. All of those are studios. The median household income for Mott Haven and Melrose was $21,633 in 2013, according to the US census.

“A lot of people in this neighborhood don’t make more than $15 an hour,” Yoc said after the meeting. “A lot of people will not be close to getting units” at La Central.

The first 50 percent of the complex’s available apartments will be reserved for residents of Community District 1, including Mott Haven, Melrose and Port Morris, and will be selected through the city’s lottery process.

On April 28, the board voted unanimously to provide a letter of support for the project, as part of the ULURP process.

Additional reporting by Victoria Edwards. The story was updated on April 29 to add that the board voted in favor of the project. 

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