The site on Elton Avenue and E. 158th Street where a church was demolished earlier this year, to make way for supportive housing many residents oppose. Image: Google maps.

At its April 27 virtual meeting, Community Board 1 unanimously rejected requests for letters of support from developers for two proposals looking to build taxpayer subsidized, supportive housing in Melrose. One would be for tenants who are single or have mental health issues, the other for people aged 18-25. 

Both projects are as-of-right, meaning that the developers own the land and do not need approval from the community board to build. But because the developers are seeking public financing for the projects, the community board is allowed to weigh in on potential impacts to the neighborhood. 

Freddy Perez, who heads Board 1’s Economic Development and Land Use Committee, said residents came out in droves for the March 12 committee meeting at Lincoln Hospital to vent their anger and worry over the proposed projects.

One proposal is for a 10 story, 106 apartment building at 431-439 Concord Avenue, put forward by Carthage Real Estate Advisors and Unique People Services. The apartments are deemed affordable, at 60% of the Area Medium Income, and are slated for “single individuals with mental health illness,” Perez said. Residents argue that the height of the building would cast shadows on surrounding homes, which are mostly three or four stories, and that the type of tenants could present a safety risk in the residential neighborhood. 

The board voted unanimously not to provide the letter of support the developer wants for the $70 million project.

The other developer who came in front of the land use committee in March requesting a letter of support was a collaboration between the Jericho Project and the Asthma Project, calling for 84 affordably priced apartments on the site of a recently demolished church at 450 E. 158th Street, and 45 apartments at 474 East 158th Street, all for people 18-25, at 100% affordable housing rates by AMI standards. Seventy-eight of the apartments would offer supportive housing and 50 would be for low income renters. There would be 24 hour security, outdoor recreation, health care, and job readiness training. 

But Perez told Board 1 that neighbors and homeowners at his March committee meeting said they “felt betrayed by their local elected officials. The presenters never engaged them,” and that they said they “were completely blindsided by the project.” 

“The presenters were very vague,” added Perez, and “various questions were never answered.”

He suggested the board send a letter on behalf of the residents to Rep. Rafael Salamanca, whose district the project is in, stating, “we’re not happy, they’re not happy and maybe the council member with the developers can restructure or redesign what type of project this should be.”

The developers have pushed the project through on the site of a popular, 150 year old church that was torn down earlier this year, despite outcry from residents to try to preserve and landmark it. 

Perez cautioned that the board must act quickly to pressure the developer to build smaller and make the project affordable rather than supportive housing.

“They’re already digging up that hole,” he said.

Other issues the board addressed:

  • Chair Parks addressed an ongoing issue of poor attendance by board members at committee meetings. “There’s a lot going on in the district, and we need all of our members who are the ambassadors for the community to have all hands on deck,” she said. “If we don’t speak up and get engaged then we may not like the results for what other people are planning in the community where we live at.” 
  • Recently hired District Manaager Anthony Jordan advised that Board 1 will submit a letter in early May to state officials, demanding that a Port Morris “peaker plant” that provides power around the city during periods of heavy power usage gets “downpowered immediately,” because “it supplies no real power” in the South Bronx, while making air pollution worse. 
  • Commanding Officer Joe Tompkins of the 40th Precinct advised that felony assaults for domestic violence and car theft have been on the rise, while other major crimes are down. Shootings, he pointed out, were down from 11 this time last year to five. Eleven cars were stolen in April, largely the result of young people learning how to hotwire Kias and Hyundais from tiktok videos. However, a recall on those model cars to update software, along with old-fashioned steering wheel clubs, are proving effective in combatting the trend. 
  • A recent shooting at 159th Street and Brook and Third Avenue has led to more patrols in that area, but most NYPD patrol emphasis remains focused on three locations: Diego Beekman Houses at Mott Haven’s southeastern edge, Patterson and Mott Haven Houses around East 143rd Street, and Jackson and Melrose Houses around East 156th Street. 
  • Residents reiterated a familiar complaint, saying cops are taking up parking spaces from the station house on East 138th Street and Alexander Avenue to Willis Avenue. Tompkins responded that the construction project near the Madison Avenue bridges has made bad area traffic much worse, and that “the precinct has so outgrown the neighborhood around it,” that “we just don’t know where to put anyone,” but that will abate in August. Additionally, the precinct’s anticipated move to the new station house on E 149th Street at St. Ann’s Avenue, with a parking lot, will spell relief for all. 
  • A NYCHA tenant leader requested that NYPD and its public housing arm, PSA 7, go back to doing “verticals,” where officers go up and down in buildings to find and evict squatters, such as some living on a rooftop at Patterson Houses. 
  • A Lincoln Hospital nurse requested and received a letter of support from Board 1 for her fellow public health care nurses, who are demanding higher wages. Nurses in the private sector earn far more than their colleagues at public hospitals like Lincoln, she said, leading to public hospitals serving as “training ground,” for the private sector. Public sector nurses are not allowed to strike, but they are holding a rally at City Hall on May 10 to pressure the city to raise their pay.
  • Bruckner Bar & Grill in Port Morris has applied for a cannabis dispensing license, and has been invited to appear at the economic development/land use and health committees in May. The board will soon circulate a survey for board members, about opinions of the new cannabis industry and its effects.
  • Board 1 meetings are now being live streamed for the first time.
  • Breaking Ground Property Management requested a letter of support for three parking spots in front of its facility at 454 E 142nd Street, between Willis and Brook, Mondays through Fridays between 7 am and 7 pm, for ambulances and access-a-ride services. Due to the narrow streets and frequent heavy traffic, the board will push appropriate agencies to ramp up enforcement, and will approach administrators at the nearby school to ensure teachers don’t double park. 
  • A representative from the mayor’s office encouraged board members and residents to prioritize the community’s most troubling issues in an online survey before May 31, as part of a competitive citywide program called Neighborhood Support Teams. By noting key issues, residents have a shot at getting Mayor Eric Adams’ attention in contracting area nonprofits to tackle quality of life concerns.

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