Plan calls for transforming industrial area

City planners hope apartment houses and a hotel will replace some of the businesses along the Harlem River waterfront.

Where auto shops and empty factories now predominate, apartments and a hotel would rise

By Maria Clark
maria.clark@motthavenherald.com

The lower section of the Grand Concourse is almost entirely dedicated to the auto industry. The road is lined with busy auto repair shops, a gas station, a newly revamped car wash and a car dealership.

Apartment houses and a hotel may replace these businesses, if a rezoning proposal for the area passes. But although opposition has been muted, it has critics among policy-makers and planners who say the city should preserve manufacturing jobs.

When the plan was first proposed, former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, said that the zoning could jeopardize more than 230 jobs in the four-block area between E. 144th street and E. 138th street on the Grand Concourse.

Amy Anderson, the Project Associate for Sustainable Initiatives at the New York Industrial Retention Network, testified at the April 1 New York City Planning Commission hearing and reiterated Carrion’s concern.

“Manufacturing business located in such areas face increasing real estate pressures associated with nearby real estate development, resulting in displaced companies and jobs. Now is not the time to be displacing businesses and risking job losses,” she said.

Business owners have chosen to focus on their work, rather than worry about city plans that may or may not threaten their future on the Concourse.

“I have heard rumors that the city is planning to relocate us. Whatever happens, happens,” said Epifanio Aybar, the owner of Bonanza Auto Repair Shop near 140th street on the Grand Concourse.

His small shop has remained afloat despite rising rent. He says his secret for success is two-fold. His recycled tires sell rapidly and he knows how to get female customers to trust his mechanics with their cars.

“Women feel comfortable leaving their cars here, because we explain the different parts of the car and show them where the problem is,” he said.

Aybar’s lease expires in 2016, at which point construction or no construction, he plans on retiring.

The zoning proposal encompasses a 30-block area that surrounds the lower end of the Grand Concourse below 149th street. The plan would change some of the streets where only manufacturing is now permitted to a residential area.

Today 57 percent of the four to 12-story loft buildings and waterfront lots are vacant, according to the Planning and Development unit of the Bronx Borough President’s office. Even during the day, the streets along the lower Grand Concourse are nearly empty. Trash lines the gutters and the only sounds come from passing trains and the high-power hoses used to clean out garbage trucks at a nearby Department of Sanitation facility.

“It’s quite dead at night. After 7 you can scream and no one will hear you,” said Jose Orta , 40, the warehouse manager at Baya Movers Company near 144th street on Canal Place. Unlike Epifanio Aybar’s business on the other side of the Metro North railyard, which splits Mott Haven, Baya Movers Company is not jeopardized by the zoning plan.

Orta welcomes the idea of residents moving into the area, saying it will mean better access to food. With only two delis in the area and a diner, he says, the neighborhood will need more eateries.

Despite the empty streets, in recent years the neighborhood has seen a dramatic decrease in crime. In 1995, the 40th Precinct on 138th street, which covers all of Community District 1, reported a total of 1,116 robberies. That number dropped to 541 last year. Break-ins, however, remain a concern for local workers.

Igor Gladkov, the president of Astra Town Car Corporation, had to install video cameras and alarms around his car dealership near E. 140th street on the Grand Concourse. Two homeless men broke into the small offices on the car lot in January 2008, used the microwave to heat up food and took off with a supply of pens.

Pilfering is the least of Gladkov’s worries. The proposal threatens his business.

Gladkov, however, says he isn’t too concerned. His lease ends in seven years and in that time he suspects there won’t be much construction in the area.

His office rattled as two trains passed by in the rail yard below the dealership. He had to shout to be heard. “If they build a hotel on this strip, the guests will check out after one day and never come back. No way anyone can get any sleep around here with the trains.”

However, if a hotel developer does take over his car lot, Gladkov says he’ll deal with the situation the best he can.

He said, “Moving the business will be hard on us and our customers. But if we have to move, then we move.”

5 thoughts on “Plan calls for transforming industrial area

  1. It’s interesting that the only way areas can be revived or re-engineered is to move whatever existing life was in that space.

    Yes we can use a lot more housing-affordable-truly affordable housing. Commerce is good for an area. However, the Bronx is being gentrified with no end in sight-even with the economic problems we face.

    Our borough does not have enough activists at the grass roots level. The vast majority are uninformed and untrained in terms of getting heard.

    Many of the “advocates” are not members of the communities in which they advocate. We have to train the residents in the different areas to become real “advocates” and not just be heard and then be picked off with a job or a grant.

    That’s what happened in the 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s -and since the 1990’s most organizations have been co-opted. Our political respresentatives respond to a small cadre of interests-those with the money, access and power and basically don’t tend to the constituents that they have been elected to serve.

    One of the interesting facts about the Upper West Side in Manhattan-the area from the 60’s to the 90’s was that it was a working class area, that housed persons who could not afford apartments. There were plenty of “rooming houses”, brownstones with kitchenettes, etc. Those persons who we see in the homeless shelters and on the streets are the byproducts of a NYC program-J55 tax abatement-that transformed these properties to the multi-million dollar entities they are now.

    But those dispossessed-persons with mental disabilities who had been discharged from the mental institutions after many years of residing in such facilities- had to fend for themselves.

    Now we have this cottage industry of services for the homeless-100’s of millions of dollars-if not billions, and the quality of life for most of the poorest, frailest, sickest is squat-Zero-sub-human.

    So, as we watch the Bronx become the next haven for those who can pay $1500 for a 600 sq foot studio-where will the people go?

    And where will it end? And how is that righteous.

    At least in Europe the young people riot and demand to be heard. Here, especially in New York our young people are separated by gangs, by curfews and by bad schools.

    Peace.

  2. Achieving Waterfront Parks & Access in the Short-term

    Achieving Waterfront Parks & Access in the Short-term
    Bronx Borough President¹s Public Hearing
    Lower Concourse ReZoning Proposal

    Testimony March 10, 2009
    Good morning. My name is Harry J. Bubbins, Director of Friends of Brook Park
    (FoBP), the South, South Bronx based environmental, arts and sustainable
    development organization. FoBP is committed to ensuring that our Mott
    Haven, Melrose and Port Morris communities enjoy easy access to our
    waterfront and full enjoyment of the current and proposed public
    amenities, including public sports fields, natural areas, shore line
    greenway, waterfront and river access and more.

    This testimony pertains to the Lower Concourse Rezoning Public Review
    process now underway.
    Through the South Bronx Initiative, a Mayoral effort to identify community
    priorities and create a coordinated economic development strategy for the
    South Bronx, the Lower Concourse rezoning proposal Public Review will
    continue through the environmental review and ULURP process.
    The City Planning Commission, as environmental lead agency, issued a Notice
    of Completion for a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the
    proposal, on January 30, 2009.
    The proposal began formal public review on February 2, 2009 with the
    Department of City Planning¹s certification of the Uniform Land Use Review
    Procedure (ULURP) application (C 090303 ZMX) and referral of the related
    zoning text amendment (N 090302 ZRX).
    While we are encouraged that the Harlem River and this area are getting much
    needed attention, we must highlight in particular one aspect that needs to
    be included before you should support this.
    One, real waterfront access.
    The proposed inclusion of a vision for parkland and waterfront access is a
    small step to rectify historical inequities. But, with the location of the
    CSX railway along the Western border of the Bronx, any park space that is
    blocked by the raised rail in the Harlem River is not really “waterfront”
    space in the truest sense of the word, which would be inclusive of on-water
    recreational opportunities. The proposed space below 149th Street suffers
    from this rail barrier. In addition, the proposed park space there is
    contingent on highway development and building development, which would
    likely not occur until some indeterminate time in the unknown future.
    RECOMMENDATION:
    The proposed zoning footprint should be expanded south to include the Park
    Avenue location that the community has been advocating for use as a park
    space for over ten years. As it stands the proposed map stops mere feet
    from including this obvious and natural site for a community park,
    waterfront with water access. This site is featured on the cover of the NYC
    Department of City Planning¹s Bronx Harlem River Waterfront Bicycle and
    Pedestrian Study, 2006.
    This existing green-space is ready to use as a park already and would serve
    the Lower Grand Concourse area and beyond, without delaying a much needed
    resources until the distant future. This is an ideal opportunity to map
    this location as parkland for the existing community and for residents and
    businesses to come. With this minor modification that in no way detracts
    from any of the proposed ReZoning goals or plans we can achieve immediate
    waterfront park and access with minimal if any Capital costs.
    With this slight extension of the proposed map by a mere 100 feet to the
    South along the Harlem River we will successfully achieve one of the major
    stated goals of the ReZoning, which is to ³Provide new waterfront open space
    to an underserved community.²
    This waterfront open space at the end of Park Avenue would work to support
    the effort to create a continuous promenade along the Harlem River and
    connect the proposed parks to the north with the existing Port Morris
    community to the south.
    Thank you for your time and attention. We look forward to your response and
    to support your advocacy to leverage the Public Review process to gain
    substantial benefits for our community.

  3. Barbara, althought your comment was long, it was entirely uninformed and wrong, spoken exactly like someone who is not from the neighborhood and knows nothing about it.

    1-The reality is that the Bronx, and South Bronx in partiuclar, is NOT being gentrified, it is being revitalized. What is the difference? The revitalization that is occuring is INCLUDING those from the neighborhood, and is driven BY THEM, and the changes that are happening are not to remove residents, but to make it better for them. It is also making it better for ALL NYers who may be interested in living in the community as well, as the Bronx is 1 of 5 boroughs in NYC, and not an island unto itself.

    2- While one can say there are not enough activists in the South Bronx, that can be said of any community…there are never enough. However, the activists are the ones driving the changes in the community. The reason why Melrose is the fastest growing community in NYC, and is the model for green and affordable housing is due precisely to local activists (Nos Quedamos) for the benefit of the community. The reason why Hunts Point is leading the city in greening initiatives, and is creating bike lanes, parkland, green rooves, cleaning the Bronx River, is because of local activists (Sustainable South Bronx) and for the benefit of the community. None of this is gentrification, it is community/activist driven revitalization for the benefit of local residents, and working/middle class residents (current and future). Same applies to the rezoning of the Lower grand Concourse….it is in fact COMMUNITY driven, and had you attended community board meetings, you would know who is involved, and why the community is onboard and excited about the project.

    3-Your definitions of “working class” is wrong. A working class community is not one that is filled with “rooming houses”….that is in fact a POOR community with unskilled/uneducated laborers. The fact that they are now homeless demonstrates that they are just another casualty of a changing economy over the past few decades, and are representative of the least adaptable segment of our society, the poor/uneducated, NOT the working class.

    4-You are now touching on the homeless and the services, or lack thereof. However, the city TODAY is providing phenomenal services to the homeless moreso than anytime in the city’s history…they receive food, shelter, educational opportunities, job training, and are the FIRST in line to receive permanent housing via the city’s new affordable housing program. Is the system perfect? No and NEVER has been. Would you prefer being homeless today or 30, 50, or 100 years ago? I would say TODAY.

    5-You are right about one thing..the Bronx will become the next place where rents are $1,600 a month for a 600 sf studio. But what you fail to realize is that it is a NORMAL function of life…unless of course you believe everyone should still be paying the same $15 a month for an apt that they were paying 60 years ago? Or a nickel for a movie? Or 10 cents for a train ride? By the time the South Bronx’s average rent for a 600 sf studio is $1,600, you will be dead or have moved away, and furthermore, by the time that average rent is achieved, it will no doubt be FAR CHEAPER than the rest of the city, as the Bronx will remain the most affordable place in the city. The city and the community is making sure of it.

    6-You believe “at least in Europe the kids riot and demand to be heard.” Well let’s talk about your wish for riots in the USA…I believe there were several in the 60s and 70s…and what was the result of this wonderful strategy? Oh right…we are still living through those repercussions..some of which are the gangs and bad schools that you blame for dividing our youth.

    There is far too much ignorance from people who not only don’t live in the neighborhood, but have their own agendas. When you scream “gentrification” it certainly gets people’s attention, but it is NOT what is happening in the South Bronx, and is just the usual scare tactics and political nonsense to push thru your own agenda. It is no different than the ignorant statements of “White people are moving into Hunts Point and trying to kick out the poor, innocent residents of color.” What do these statements have in common? They are both wrong, promote stereotypes, and are used by people who either do not know what they are talking about, or by people who have a more sinister, selfish motive.

    Should anyone actually want to know what the future is for the South Bronx, I suggest going to a community board #1 meeting, joining one of the community groups I listed above which are the ones driving the changes in the community, or simply take a stroll through the neighborhoods and see the actual development that is occuring. What you see is not $1 million luxury condos going up, or white people harassing residents..you see affordable housing aimed specifically for the working/middle class, and the infrastructure and amenities to service the growing population.

  4. Hello Citizens of the net:

    The preceding comments may be difficult for one who does not know the neighborhoods described to understand with clarity. Allow me to help sort this out. Both Barbara and the Mott Haven Resident are right. What you may ask? Yes, the world, and certainly NYC, are complex enough to have two people who pose as contestants of vision to be weaving parallel and valid narratives.

    Barbara is right; significant clusters within the South Bronx are gentrifying. Nos Quedamos and their ideological bretheren are not the only Melrose developers. Projects spurred on by them have, in fact, given confidence to purely for-profit developers who are selling new and renovated residential spaces at rates that do not suggest a market local to Melrose residents but more 161st st. professionals who have mostly not lived in the local neighborhoods in over 35 yeas.

    As for mentioned S. Bronx based greening organizations, it is actually regularly debated within these organizations whether some of their actions are attracting speculative development that’s clearly not for the existing community so it’s overly simplistic for the Mott Haven resident to present her/himself as the local voice of reason who can see no gentrification occurring.

    As for the reference to young people demonstrating or not, let’s be clear. What Barbara more likely was referring to are the regular and largely civil and constructive demonstrations common in France where youth express their clear sense of self efficacy, self-validation and right to participate in the process which is unquestionably significantly muted in socially segregated communities typical of American “inner cities.” Barbara was actually %100 on the mark here. Remember the demonstrations a few years back when the French government tried to make changes to the national laws on post-college internships so that it was easier to fire young adults just starting their careers. This is what Barbara was more likely talking about but the Mott haven resident saw what she/he wished to see to mute the brilliance Barbara displayed with her accurate statement.

    Peace,
    36 year old native Black Bronx Resident

    Bar

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