An artist's rendering of the development the city imagines along the Bronx Harlem River waterfront
On the southern end of the Grand Concourse, barbed wire, car dealerships and auto parts suppliers line the road, surrounded by industrial buildings that have seen busier days.  The Mott Haven waterfront is dotted with ministorage buildings, rows of school buses and piles of trash.

But this may change.

The city has a plan that could bring new life – and new investment – to the lower Concourse and Harlem River waterfront.  The Department of City Planning has envisioned a new future for this 30-block area.

In the next few years the neighborhood’s first large supermarket may replace factories. The stately apartment buildings that line the Grand Concourse to the north could be mirrored in the south.

And the Harlem River Waterfront could be transformed within a decade to a Battery Park City of the North, with towering apartment buildings as high as 40 stories overlooking a waterfront promenade laced with open-air cafes and patches of green.

The government is not going to build any of this itself.  But, through a process called rezoning, it can change the rules that govern how people who own property in the area develop and use their land.

“We want to create a place where people can live, work, shop and play,” said Carol Samol, head of the city planning department’s Bronx office.

Current zoning rules keep buildings small in this area–just blocks away from Mott Haven’s towering housing projects–and prohibit their use as homes.  By changing these rules, the city hopes to encourage property owners either to convert vacant manufacturing lofts to housing, sell their land to developers or build something new themselves.

Community Board 1 unanimously approved the plan at its February meeting, though some board members voiced misgivings.

Board member Mychal Johnson said he’s worried that rising rents could eventually drive out the area’s long-time residents. The proposed new rules would encourage developers to build affordable housing in the district along with higher-rent housing.  But Johnson is concerned that that might not be enough, because the definition of “affordable” is pegged to the average income of people living in New York City as well as Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties.

“Sometimes that doesn’t help people here,” Johnson said, “because this community is on the lower end.”

Based on the most recent income calculations, a family earning as much as $55,000 would be eligible for a subsidized two-bedroom apartment, and the rent could be as high as $1,237.

“Of course we don’t want our sky blocked with skyscrapers,” Johnson said. “One of the reasons I love the Bronx is that we’re not boxed in.” But he voted to support the plan because he thinks community will benefit from a better mix of incomes.

The warehouses and parking lots of the Harlem River waterfront may be replaced within a decade by modern development
The warehouses and parking lots of the Harlem River waterfront may be replaced within a decade by modern development

Commercial investment would also bring needed jobs, he believes, along with real estate tax payments that might help improve local schools.  In addition, he hopes that economic incentives will pressure local polluters like the waste transfer station in the Oak Point Yards to clean up their acts.

Other concerns arise because more apartment buildings would mean more riders on the subway, more cars on the road, more kids in the classrooms and more patients in the hospital.  In its environmental study of the project, the city planning department estimated the plan could bring over 10,000 new residents within 10 years.

Board member Alice Simmons said development should be an ongoing dialogue. “We’re talking about a 10-year goal,” she said.  “It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Community Board 1 Chairman George Rodriguez said residents had reason to worry about such a big change, and acknowledged that he himself is worried about protecting local small businesses.  But rezoning is an important part of revitalizing the South Bronx, he said, and worries should not be an excuse to do nothing.

“You might open a Pandora’s box, but then, you might not,” Rodriguez said.

The small conference room at the community board office was overflowing with people on the evening of the vote.  The planning department showed PowerPoint slides with maps, photos of buildings in the areas that would be rezoned and renderings of potential new development.

Board members and members of the audience expressed their concerns during a question and answer period.

One board member said that Mott Haven needs a state-of-the-art public library.

Pamela Smith, the president of the Mitchel Houses tenants’ association, worried that increased traffic and taller buildings would create and trap air pollution in an area where asthma is already epidemic.
Two representatives of the community group Nos Quedamos asked about churches in the plan, and how the plan would address the influence of Sin City, a strip club on Park Avenue.

Samol said the new zoning rules would not prevent the construction of churches or libraries. She also said that car technology is becoming cleaner, and developers would plant street trees to help clean the air.

Business that are currently operating will not be forced to move, she said, but once the area has a residential zoning new adult establishments will not be allowed.

The City Planning Commission is currently reviewing the proposal.  The City Council is expected to vote on the plan sometime this summer.

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13 thoughts on “City plans a new neighborhood in Mott Haven”
  1. This is a wonderful article, and demonstrates the profound changes that are occuring in the Southern Bronx, and specifically Mott Haven. The next 10 years will take the community to the next level…and I am happy to see that the community board is as enthusiastic about these changes as the residents are.

  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.
    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. Thanks for the article and for the newspaper. It provides a great coverage of my neighborhood and many aspects of it that are often overlooked.

  4. A “new” neighborhood”? We are here now already. What do you mean a “new” neighborhood? Help improve what is here, not displace people.

  5. Pedro did you even read the article? Did you note that there will be NO displacement AND the new vision for the neighborhood INCLUDES current residents, as well as makes specific allocations to affordable housing, as just about every residential development in the Bronx does? That’s why the community board gave it a big fat thumbs up…as did residents.

    It is a new neighborhood in that the entire VISION and purpose of the community is transforming from one of extreme poverty, to one that is becoming an oasis for the working and middle class AS WELL. What is occuring in the neighborhood is a rebirth..aka “new”. I think anyone who has ventured into Mott Haven is painfully aware of who is there now….and the city/community is onboard with IMPROVING the existing neighborhood with retail, restaurants, open space, waterfront access, residential towers, commercial space etc.

    The vast majority of residents, including myself, are thrilled to see the new vision for the community, and aer looking forward to the new faces that will join us in the area, as well as the new shopping, dining, parks that will follow. But hey…let’s just cancel this whole project and leave the area in disinvestment and deterioration so that your rent won’t go up $20 a month…b/c after all..its all about keeping your rent free/cheap at all costs right?

  6. “But hey…let’s just cancel this whole project and leave the area in disinvestment and deterioration”

    I somehow doubt that given the area’s proximity to Yankee Stadium and the increase in MLB induced real estate development? Does not the proposal include for instance a hotel? Perhaps the YES network or some other Yankees related entity may have their eyes upon this area?

  7. […] could do a lot for the Bronx. As it stands these areas are mostly vacant (Harlem River Waterfront. City plans a new neighborhood in Mott Haven | Mott Haven Herald The proposed Waterfront District at a glance | Mott Haven Herald Plan calls for transforming […]

  8. […] Anon: If someone has 15 credit cards and $50 million to spend, what business is it of yours what neighborhood they move to, and why must it meet your criteria? People live where they want to live for a variety of reasons, so unless you are paying their bills, what right do you have to comment, criticize, or otherwise dictate their choices? I don't understand why you feel "your people" own a neighborhood any more than other people before you did? I don't understand why you have a problem with people of means moving into lower income communities….is there a rule that excludes them we don't know about? Only brown and black poor people allowed? Are you supposed to have a great reason to move there, and must they seek your approval? Yes they can live anywhere, and they are choosing these communities….SO WHAT? Get a life dude…and let people live their own the way they want..they are not asking you to pay their bills! NYkiddo: Mott Haven already has a waterfront plan in place of high rises, greenways, mixed income condos/rentals, retail, outdoor restaurants for the waterfront from just south of Yankee Stadium swooping around to the Willis Ave Bridge. It is about 7 years out I would say before it begins. The area was recently rezoned, which was the big first step. City plans a new neighborhood in Mott Haven […]

  9. […] The current proposal by the nonprofit development group, SoBRO, calls for new residential, commercial and public spaces along the Grand Concourse between East 138th and East 149th Streets. New restaurants, retail shops and parks would replace the auto body shops, packaging companies and storage warehouses that currently line the shore, which was rezoned in 2009. […]

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