Residents brace for waterfront development

By Samali Bikangaga. The Harlem River as seen from the East 132nd Street Pier.

By Samali Bikangaga. The Harlem River at the East 132nd Street Pier.

Residential towers on Harlem River shore would hamper public access, they argue

Some residents attending an Aug. 4 forum Hostos Community College to discuss the future of the Lower Concourse North waterfront site, said they’re nervous about high rise housing they fear developers will eventually build along the banks of the Harlem River in Port Morris. They argued that the city’s plan to build as many as 1,000 new units along the waterfront would make public access to the river much more difficult.

In July the city released a request for expressions of interest for developers to build on the 158 thousand square foot, city-owned parcel, which is zoned for residential towers of up to 40 stories.

When attendees expressed displeasure with the possibility of large scale development on the site, a housing official tried to reassure them.

“Based on the zoning, you could build 40- or- 26-story buildings,” said Ted Weinstein, the Bronx’s director of planning for the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. “It doesn’t mean that it has to be or will be. Right now, the idea is that there should be residential, with community space.”

Officials tried to dispel rumors buzzing at the forum that the city is going against zoning for the parcel that does not encompass housing, and that officials are trying to pull a fast one. A representative of the NYC Economic Development Corp., Hannah Berday, said, “We have a vision for the site,” which will consist of both affordable housing and Harlem River access. “We see it as a mixed-use project, and there will be publicly accessible open space along the waterfront.”

The city says it will invest $194 million dollar toward developing it, as part of the mayor’s “Housing New York” plan to create or restore 200,000 units of affordable housing within 10 years.

The attendees were divided into small groups, where they discussed recreational access and parks, safer streets, housing, homeownership options, youth program facilities, parking, high quality jobs, commercial businesses and bike paths.

Melrose resident Isaac Dejano, a teacher, said he hopes residents will mobilize to oppose any large scale housing proposals along the waterfront.

“We need to see how we can create a space that uplifts the Harlem River, not just use it as another residential space,” he said. “There are so many other areas where we can do that.”

Robin Lee, 50, a graphic novelist and animator, said creating more commercial and residential space along the riverfront is a bad idea, as is a huge residential tower, which she said would be out of place in low-rise Port Morris. She reminded others about October 2012 when Hurricane Sandy swept ashore, causing flooding from the waterfront all the way up to the Bronx Terminal Market on Exterior Street.

“We need to stop developing in areas that are so prone to flooding,” said Lee. “We should extend the park and add plants that can absorb that flooding.”