Community Board 1 has a new chairperson, after more than two years with no one at the helm.
At Board 1’s Sept. 30 online meeting, members elected their longtime Housing and Land Use Committee Chair, Arline Parks, to head the board. The seat has been open since George Rodriguez died during his term in 2019.
Parks, who is CEO of the Diego Beekman Mutual Housing Association, which administers about 1,200 apartments in Mott Haven, has led opposition to the city’s plan to build a borough-based jail on the site of an NYPD tow pound that borders Beekman Houses. She led efforts by Beekman residents to build affordable housing on the 4.5 acre lot, before the city announced jail plans in 2018. Parks is also Vice Chair of local nonprofit housing organization SOBRO,
Not only has Board 1 been without a Chair, they lost their top administrator when District Manager Cedric Loftin retired during the summer. So far, the Bronx Borough President’s office still has not announced plans to hire a replacement.
District managers are city employees elected by their boards. Their tasks include implementing procedures to improve city services to the district, as well as resolving complaints from residents. Loftin’s last listed salary, for 2020, was $142,987.
When the votes for Chair were counted, Parks received 19 votes. Her lone opponent, Clarisa Alayeto, had 12. Alayeto, Board 1’s second vice chair, is manager of community engagement and government for Dream Middle School in Mott Haven. She and other board members have argued that the board has lacked transparency for not publicly posting notices of its online meetings, or recordings of completed meetings, as required by law.
The Bronx borough president’s office has not responded to emails from The Herald, asking when a recording of the Sept. 30 meeting will be posted online.
“I’ve always pushed to have a website,” said Alayeto, presenting her platform. “As a leader, I want to leverage the skills from our board members,” and “to push us to be a more active and visible board. We need to be out in the community.”
After the votes were counted, Parks offered Alayeto a conciliatory message.
“We need more Clarisas to reinvigorate the board,” said Parks.
Disruptive echoing marred the three-and-a-half hour meeting, which was delayed 45 minutes at the start because there was no quorum. The disruptions prompted numerous attendees to complain, including one who identified herself in the chat as Evelyn, who wrote, “The way this meeting is run is deplorable. Our community deserves better than this type of management,” later adding that “Each of the meetings I have attended have been fraught with power hoarding, a lack of management and disrespect of the community’s time.”
Board member Marco Shalma wrote “I would hope that moving forward new members can get more info about committes (sic.) recommendations and votes before the full board so we may better prefer and assess the subjects. i didn’t get info nor found any of it on the site and i feel i could have prepared better.”
Mott Haven resident Nestor Lopez complained that his “emails to the board most times would get no response and ignored. I’ve had to CC the Bronx borough presidents office in order to get responses.”
Board member Cesar Yoc said that a “website needs to be built, social media needs to be built with rules (so people are not just putting anything). Need a communication plan and best practices.”
Board rejects two projects
On other topics, the board voted down two projects: one for an addiction treatment services program at 2776-2778 Third Avenue, the other for a 15-story, market rate, mixed use building at 180 E. 32nd Street on the Port Morris waterfront. Both projects had come before Board 1 committees earlier in September.
At the September Committee meetings, Addiction Services and Community Engagement’s director Luis Laboy told Board 1 that the proposed facility at the corner of E. 147th Street would provide “medication assistance not methadone, mental health services, vocational, parenting skills, alternatives to incarceration.”
But at the Sept. 30 meeting, board members were skeptical of those assurances.
“They say they’re going to provide medication assistance, not methadone,” said Health Committee Chair Brenda Goodwin. “But once they’re in, how can anyone really stop them?”
“This location was Narco Freedom, then Samaritan Village,” said board member Ricardo Cosme, pointing out that the area surrounding the proposed facility already has a number of addiction treatment programs.
“That whole area is an area that is in need of work. We’re not against the agency,” he said, pointing out that “adding another one just doesn’t make any sense.”
In addition, the board voted not to provide a letter of support for the developer of the waterfront parcel, who is seeking variances to height and river frontage restrictions to build a 15-story, market rate, mixed-use building at E. 132nd Street. The first floor would include a pool, a gym, a landscaped yard and a walkway connecting two separate parts of the building. The proposed apartments include 112 studios and studios with offices, and the same number of one-bedrooms and one-bedrooms with offices. There would also be 128 parking spaces on site.
A variance would be required, with the applicant also proposing to construct a vehicular and pedestrian access. Remedial work with the Department of Environmental’s Conservation Brownfield Cleanup Program is also called for.
Board members raised familiar complaints about the Port Morris proposal. Rents that the landlord would charge, although not yet detailed, would likely be well above local affordability levels, and the proposed height of the building would be out of character with the neighborhood.