A developer looking to build an 11-story building with affordable housing at 431 Concord Avenue met stiff opposition from area residents and members of Community Board 1, who blasted him for what they say are his company’s neglect of the property, which city property records show he bought in 2016.
Additionally, Board 1 argued that if developer Nissan Cohen’s plans proceed as proposed, the building would tower obtrusively over the surrounding neighborhood.
At the Nov. 19 meeting, conducted over Zoom, Board 1’s Land Use Committee Chair Arline Parks was furious that the City Planning Commission had agreed earlier in November to the developer’s request to rezone the area around the proposed building, from commercial to residential without first consulting with Board 1.
“Why do you have a community board if developers can go down to the city and get downtown people to approve a project before it even comes to the community board?” said Parks. By approving rezoning proposals without input from communities, the Planning Commission is setting “a really bad precedent,” she said.
The 12-member City Planning Commission, which consists of appointees selected by the mayor and New York City’s five borough presidents, certified the rezoning on Nov. 2. If approved by Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., the decision would pave the way for Cohen and his company, First Concord Realty LLC, to replace the building that now stands at 431 Concord Avenue with 11 floors housing 92 apartments for residents earning between 30 and 100 percent of the Area Median Income.
In a follow up interview, Parks told The Herald that the City Planning Commission is establishing a track record of approving projects that will hurt Mott Haven’s southwestern corner, adjacent to the Bruckner Expressway. Last year the Commission approved Mayor de Blasio’s proposal for a jail on the site of an NYPD tow pound on E. 141 Street.
The area can’t support a new high-rise and all the people that would live there, said Parks. “There are no schools being built. There’s no infrastructure investment. There’s no commercial corridor in this part of the district.”
State Assembly member-elect Amanda Septimo said that because the median income in the South Bronx is so much lower than the rest of the city, the new development wouldn’t serve residents’ needs. In addition, she said she was wary of the developer’s choice of management companies.
“Whose decision was it to choose Wavecrest?” said Septimo, referring to the Queens-based management company that has been a frequent point of contention for South Bronx community boards who point to a long list of area buildings where tenants have filed complaints about mismanagement.
Cohen wants the city to pay $40 million in supplemental funding for construction costs on the new building, as part of the Housing Preservation and Development’s Extremely Low & Low-Income Affordability program. But the agency’s director of Bronx Planning, Ted Weinstein, said his office only recently received the application from Cohen and is still reviewing it.
“It shouldn’t be said that HPD supports the project,” said Weinstein.
A spokesman for the grassroots advocacy group South Bronx Unite doesn’t like the idea of Cohen receiving taxpayer dollars to build.
“We’re not against affordable housing,” said Mychal Johnson. “We’re not against creating housing for folks in our community, that’s for sure, but we can’t reward bad actions.”
From a heavily overgrown lawn, to garbage and rats, to dirty needles and two fires that broke out in the building, neighbors say Cohen has not maintained the property over the last three-and-a-half years he has owned it, leaving it to become a public health hazard.
One woman at the meeting, Roxanna Goularte, shared photos taken earlier that evening, showing 431 Concord Avenue’s existing building, covered with graffiti. Pieces of the roof and top floor that were destroyed in a fire lay amid weeds as tall as the chain link fence containing them.
“This has been three years in the making,” said Goularte. “There has been no regard for the immediate community. This would never happen in Manhattan.”
Cohen defended himself against assertions he has not maintained the yard, saying the grass is cut at least once a year.
“Once a year? That’s not enough,” shouted one attendee.
“We’re working on it,” Cohen responded, adding that his company will make amends. “What happened before, I’m sorry. I cannot change it.” He added that complaints registered with the city against the Concord Avenue building and other properties he owns are just “some neighbor looking for money. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
Another Concord Avenue neighbor, David Borloz, said Cohen’s promise to ramp up maintenance doesn’t sway him in the developer’s favor.
“We see 11 stories that are going to be maintained the same way,” Borloz said. “We are going to have 11 times what we have had for the past three years. Dead animals, syringes, debris falling off the building, human excrement. We don’t trust you.”
Parks worried about the precedent this could set for the City Planning Commission to steamroll community boards in approving rezonings from now on.
“Once you do this project, you open up the floodgates,” she said.
After weighing the testimony, Board 1 voted not to approve Cohen’s application, prompting a letter to the Bronx borough president’s office recommending he turn down the project.