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South Bronx Rezoning Sellout

Harry Bubbins Mar 16, 2005

rezoning“I want to relax in life, that’s all I want,” says Rolando Sosa, owner of Tróchez Upholstery, who came to Port Morris from Honduras 22 years ago. PHOTO: ANTRIM CASKEY

On March 9, the New York City Council approved sweeping zoning changes for the Port Morris section of the South Bronx that many residents, local artists and business owners say will lead to violent gentrification and displacement. The major local concerns were that the changes were devised with little local input, lacked any guarantees of affordable housing, and did not give priority to waterfront access.

Local opponents charge that the zoning changes, prepared by the Department of City Planning (DCP), would turn the neighborhood into SoHo and pave the way for big-box stores to acquire public subsidies and move in. Home Depot is seeking about $36 million in tax-exempt bond financing to help it build a warehouse, distribution and fulfillment center on 132nd Street in Port Morris.

“Rezoning as is will only foster a Port Morris that will quickly force the displacement of those moderate and low-income persons now living there, and ultimately make the area completely unaffordable to South Bronx residents who would like to stay or return to the area in the future,” Hector Soto, of the Center for Social Empowerment told the Council. “The South Bronx should not be for sale to the highest bidder at the expense of those who live there now, or those who want to live there in the future.”

The changes extend the Port Morris mixeduse district to 11 surrounding blocks, which DCP maintains would also allow for residential use and community facilities, even though residences exist there already, and the plan does not identify or mandate any community facilities. According to DCP, the area surrounding the existing district is ripe for an increase in luxury residential and commercial activity.

The Pratt Institute Center for Community and Environmental Development says the rezoning would allow the development of more than 2,300 new housing units during the next 10 years, with no guarantees that any of it would be affordable. In addition, it would result in substantial windfalls for politically connected and savvy private landowners in the area, with property values increasing up to sixfold.

One reason area residents had little input into the process was that the South Bronx did not have a representative on the council for the first six weeks of the year, until Maria del Carmen Arroyo won a special election to replace former Councilmember Jose M. Serrano Jr., who was elected to the state senate in November. Before and after being elected, Arroyo pledged to support anti-displacement guarantees and require at least half the housing created under the rezoning plan to be affordable for people with low and moderate incomes. But representatives from the South Bronx Coalition for Inclusionary Zoning who met with Arroyo, and attended council hearings to urge her either to oppose or delay the rezoning plan because of its failure to include affordable housing, are disappointed. “It seemed to us that the Councilwoman was not willing to take a stand on this issue,” said Soto. “She seemed to be defending the rezoning as is, and rehashing the pro-plan arguments of the Planning Commission and its other backers.”

Interestingly, the city’s negotiations with Home Depot were never brought up at any of the public hearings or information sessions, leaving some council staff bitter. One legislative aide wishing to remain anonymous said, “It’s typical of City Planning and the administration. They barely show you what’s in one hand, with the other hand behind their back rolled into a ready fist.”

A public hearing on Home Depot’s request for the 132nd Street land is scheduled for 10 a.m., April 7, at the Industrial Development Agency offices at 110 William St. in Lower Manhattan.

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SOUTH BRONX WATERFRONT: Ideal canoe launch. PHOTO: ANTRIM CASKEY