Community Board set to vote on proposed zoning change
The city has decided to build a massive, three-building complex at the intersection of Southern Boulevard and Union Avenue and E. 149th St., where the eviction of the Morning Glory community garden in November led to the arrest of four protesters and a journalist.
The construction of a complex with buildings ranging from eight to 15 stories high requires a zoning change to accommodate denser development than is permitted under the current land use rules.
The complex would include an Easter Seals school for special needs children, 37,000 square feet of retail space and 430 new apartments. The Department of Housing Preservation and Development has chosen Queens-based Douglaston Development. The developer and the city would co-own the building.
HPD spokesman Eric Bederman says the complex will provide “badly needed new affordable apartments for low-income and moderate-income New Yorkers.”
But some residents say the project, dubbed Crossroads Plaza, is being pushed through without enough public notice, and add that it will sacrifice the need for green space to development. They want officials to address concerns about financing, environmental remediation and whether rents will be realistic for Mott Havenites.
“There haven’t been funds secured prior to asking for our support,” said neighborhood activist Mychal Johnson, who heard the Department of Housing and Development’s presentation, and found it short on details. “Not having finances in place gives me uncertainty about the future of the project. We’ve seen sometimes where funding wasn’t secured and it didn’t turn out the way it had been planned.”
Johnson also questioned whether the rents would really be affordable to area residents. “The rates they’re using for what they say is affordable don’t apply to our area,” he said.
Officials say the eight-story Easter Seals building will be built first, to be followed by 13- and 15-story buildings where the stores and apartments will be located.
The city says apartments in the first building will go for between $808 and $1,135 for one-bedroom apartments and between $979 and $1,371 for two-bedrooms. Families with incomes ranging between $31,700 and $79,320 will be eligible, including a 50 percent preference for residents of Community Board 1.
After hearing the city present its plan in early February, Community Board 1′s Land Use committee agreed almost unanimously to send it to a Feb. 23 vote on the zoning change. City rules require the community board to hold a hearing and vote on zoning changes, then to send the proposal to the borough president. Final decisions on zoning are made by the City Planning Commission and the City Council.
City officials removed the plants—which had been planted without a permit–and fenced off the lot in November. Angry members of the garden group briefly occupied the community board office later that month. When they staged a demonstration in December, police broke it up, arresting five.
Mott Haven resident Aazam Otero who gardened at the site, charged the city used “overly heavy-handed treatment” to evict him and other gardeners, and said the community board is not doing enough to inform the public about the proposal, and may even be trying to avoid public scrutiny. He thinks residents would support the urban farm he and his group want to create, rather than supporting commercial development.
“The community board is not willing to be contested or to give us an opportunity,” he said. “From start to finish, there’s been no real community input.”
Not so, said Cedric Loftin, district manager of Community Board 1, adding all committee meetings are public, and that the area’s 22 Green Thumb-registered community gardens are more than in any other community district.
Loftin said the addition of more gardens is always open to consideration. “It’s not like that avenue is closed to anyone,” he said, but added, “that particular site has been earmarked for affordable housing.”
Speaking for HPD, Bederman offered assurances that any toxic material from the gas station would be cleaned up before construction begins and added that HPD is sensitive to the needs and demands of local gardeners.
“Unfortunately, the people who recently unlawfully entered this city-owned site did not seek permission to do so from HPD,” Bederman wrote in an email, and added they did not “consult the community board to determine the status of this property.”