Board 1 narrowly approves residential tower on Concourse

A rendering by Trinity Financial of a building proposed at 425 Grand Concourse.

A proposal for a 26-story building on the Grand Concourse narrowly passed a preliminary vote of Community Board 1, as board members repeatedly rejected reassurances by developers and a city official that the complex will benefit the community.

At the Sept. 28 meeting of Board 1, the housing department’s head of planning for the Bronx, Ted Weinstein, said that the building, which will include 277 apartments, recreational facilities and a charter school, will be “a little different” than most. He predicted that it would become “something to show off, like Via Verde,” referring to an acclaimed residential complex in Melrose.

The board voted 15-11 to approve the project, with stipulations, in the first phase of the Uniform Land Use (ULURP) process. It now moves on to the borough president, the City Planning Commission, the mayor’s office and the City Council.

“We at the city are very excited about this,” said Weinstein, adding that it “will create a tremendous amount of activity on this block.”

But board members were concerned with the scope of the project. They worried that it will worsen traffic problems along the Lower Concourse, will be out of proportion with Mott Haven’s low-rise character, and will add to overcrowding. In addition, they were angry that a charter school rather than a public school is in the works.

The new project is one of a host of large scale developments around Mott Haven and Port Morris that have raised concerns about the rapid rate of growth. Among others, a complex consisting of four residential towers ranging up to 25 stories with 1,7000 apartments at 101 Lincoln Avenue and 2401 Third Avenue along the Port Morris waterfront is underway.

425 Grand Concourse, where historic P.S. 31 was razed two years ago, will include 277 apartments: 45 studios, 92 1-bedrooms, 94 2-bedrooms and 46 3-bedrooms. On its northern edge, long-shuttered Garrison Playground will reopen to the public.

Ten percent of the apartments will rent at 30 to 40 percent of the area median income (AMI), which is currently set at $85,900. Thirty percent of the apartments will rent at 60 percent of AMI, and a quarter of the apartments will go for 80 to 100 percent of AMI.

Construction is set to start in summer of 2018 and finish by the start of 2021, at a cost of $160 million.

The wrinkle that excites developers and the city is a design concept called Passive House, which would greatly reduce the building’s carbon footprint and tenants’ electric bills.

“Climate change is coming and it’s important that we address it,” said Christoph Stump, vice president of construction and design at Trinity Financial, which is partnering with MBD Community Housing Corp. on the project. The building will use 75% less energy than comparable buildings, he promised, and will be a “very resilient type of building,” where residents can “shelter in place” without fear of power outages, in the event of flooding or hurricanes.

The developers were criticized when they came before the board earlier in September, announcing that Wavecrest Management would manage the building. For years South Bronx residents have complained that Wavecrest is inattentive to tenants’ demands in their deteriorating buildings.

“We’ve made a change to our team based on our feedback,” said Thomas Brown, Trinity’s senior development manager. “We’re removing Wavecrest.”

But despite that concession, Board 1 and representatives of elected officials were mostly critical of the project.

Jose Ramon Perez Lopez, a representative of State Sen. Jose M. Serrano, said his boss was “concerned with the increasing number of people who would live in the area,” predicting that ridership on the already jam-packed 2 and 5 trains at 149th Street and Grand Concourse would soar.

Assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo’s community liaison, Neyda Franco, worried about the effects added traffic will have on children. “We have a lot of schools in that area. Fine and dandy, it’s the best building, but you’re not serving the community at large.”

Weinstein said that the housing department empathizes with residents who are unhappy with the fast pace of building in the area, but “the city’s population is growing,” and the housing crisis is dire.

When board members argued that parking spots are being taken away, Weinstein countered that many of those spots are vacant. “It’s not logical (for the city) to pay $25,000 for a parking space that’s going to be empty,” he said, adding that “many will not have cars,” and will instead “take advantage of the subway right on the corner.”

Others argued that city agencies are not collaborating on multiple ambitious projects happening simultaneously, and that infrastructure is being ignored. Retired health care worker Andres Rodriguez said “It seems that every development is built on a piecemeal basis,” and the city is not considering “the impact of all of them. Traffic was bad before, it’s worse now. Where are the schools?”

Some argued that the new apartments are too small, with studios just over 400 square feet and one-bedrooms a shade over 600 square feet.

Mill Brook Houses resident Cesar Yoc complained that the city is not accounting for the human element.

“A tall building in front of the waterfront is intimidating,” said Yoc, lamenting the loss of mom and pop stores, such as a long-defunct clothing store at 138th and Brook Avenue, where “everybody knew each other. That’s been degraded. You’re talking about people here.”

“We’re not being heard by our elected officials,” said Board 1’s Housing and Land Use chair Arline Parks, who voted against the project because of its “scale and density.” By not fighting to keep the project out, those officials are ignoring “our wishes not to be like Manhattan,” and the conditions that are “creating all this overcrowding,” she said.