City’s plan for Lower Concourse draws fire

A massive development project coming to the Grand Concourse could have a significant adverse impact on the area if it proceeds as it’s now envisioned, according to an environmental consultant for the city.

New York City Economic Development Corp. A map of the site the city hopes to build on.
Rendering courtesy of New York City Economic Development Corp. of the site the city hopes to build on.

Consultant: Planned project would harm the environment, local economy

A massive development project coming to the Grand Concourse could have a significant adverse impact on the area if it proceeds as it’s now envisioned, according to an environmental consultant for the city.

The Lower Concourse North Project could bring more than 1,000 mixed-income apartments, 125,000 square-feet of commercial space and a 25,000 square-foot community facility to the city-owned, 5-acre site at East 150th Street, according to the New York Economic Development Corp., which has released a Request for Expressions of Interest to bring in developers. The agency says it hopes for a completed project on the site by 2023. The property is currently vacant, except for a circus that sometimes comes through and performs there.

The consultant who led the environmental study, Nancy Doon, announced at a Dec. 7 public scoping meeting at Hostos Community College that the project as it is currently drawn up could harm residents in 17 out of 19 categories that the city uses to measure the impact of new housing developments. Those include socioeconomic conditions, air quality, public health and the effect of emissions on climate change.

“All of these technical areas, except for two, will be examined,” Doon said. The city will “mitigate or lessen those impacts,” in the categories where testing shows that the project would be most damaging, she added.

But many who attended the meeting said they were worried about the area’s future, regardless of what test results yield.

Wanda Gaillard, 45, has never lived anywhere but the Bronx. Recently, she said, she has struggled to keep up with her rising rent.

“I need to know what’s coming,” she said, while taking notes at the meeting. She said she’ll share the information with her neighbors. “Maybe it’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for someone I know.”

Attendees lined up at the microphone to vent to city officials about the project.

“We’re concerned about the fact that you’re going to have 1,000 new families in this neighborhood,” said Julio Munoz, president of the South Bronx Community Congress, an activist coalition. “It’s going to change the character of the neighborhood significantly.”

Munoz added that parking is already scarce, particularly when there are games at Yankee Stadium.

“Residents are constantly having to battle to find a space,” Munoz said, adding that the development could cut off residents from nearby Mill Pond Park. “We want to make sure this doesn’t become a private, gated park. That’s happened here before in the South Bronx where you take our property, our land, and then all of a sudden we don’t have access to it.”

Lifelong Bronxite Edwin Figueroa said he hoped the commercial space will be affordable to local business owners like his own.

“My family, we came from Puerto Rico. As small business owners, we were able to afford locations to open up bodegas,” Figueroa said. “Small businesses nowadays, their rents are like five, six, up to $25,000 for little spaces. I hope that family-owned businesses have a stake in the community that they live in.”

Some complained that schools are already overcrowded. Others said they worried about the impact construction and increased traffic will have on the area’s high asthma rates.

But an official for the NYCEDC countered that the project will make the Grand Concourse “the next great neighborhood in New York City.”

“First and foremost we want to provide a significant amount of affordable housing,” said Nathan Gray, NYCEDC’s vice president of planning, adding that the project will also create jobs.

Dozens of carpenters who attended were excited at that prospect.

“We’re looking for work,” said Kevin Cannon, a carpenter and longtime Bronxite. “We’re all for progress as long as we can be a part of building that progress.”

But even middle class residents who attended were skeptical that the project will benefit them. Tony Martin, 52, said he was thinking about his daughter throughout the meeting. He doubted he’d be able to move into the new development, even with his $90,000 annual salary.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it,” he said.

Further questions and comments regarding the Lower Concourse North plan can be emailed to the city until Dec. 9 at 5 p.m. at [email protected]