The Jerome Avenue Rezoning proposal came one step closer to reality as the Bronx Borough Board voted in favor of the massive project. But some strings came attached to the massive plan, which looks to rezone 92 blocks of Jerome Avenue in hopes of ushering more affordable housing.
The Board, made up of the chairs and district managers of each Bronx community board along with New York City Council members serving the Bronx, voted in favor of the proposal at its monthly meeting Nov. 27. The plan covers a two-mile stretch within the west Bronx community boards 4, 5 and 7. In all, the city is committing $1 billion in investments for the neighborhoods. Fordham South, University Heights, Morris Heights, Mt. Eden, and Highbridge are among the neighborhoods impacted by plan.
Council Members Fernando Cabrera and Vanessa Gibson, whose district largely cover the rezoned area, abstained from the vote. Councilman Ritchie Torres, whose 15th Council District is not impacted by the Jerome Avenue plan, also abstained. Through his deputy chief of staff, Torres abstained. The move came as a surprise to some as Torres is in the running for New York City Council Speaker and in need of any political clout he could muster from his legislative colleagues in the Bronx. A spokesman for Torres told the Norwood News the abstention was intended to follow Gibson’s lead.
For Gibson, the proposal represents a watershed moment for these low-income neighborhoods, many of which fall within her 16th Council District. Development along the stretch has been patchy with many apartment residences in subpar states.
Schools are also overcrowded. With School District 9 and 10 falling within the west Bronx severely overcrowded, Gibson called the city to increase the number of school seats to prepare for the influx of new residents.
“We cannot accept more residents and families in this district if we do not address the unfunded seats that we have in School District 9, which is about 600 [seats], and School District 10, which is about 1800,” said Gibson, reading off prepared remarks. “We are projecting 2200 additional seats that are needed on top of the unfunded seats.”
That idea was seconded by Community Board 4 chair Kathleen Saunders and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., who was not present during the hearing but had his remarks read aloud.
The seats are a part of a number of stipulations added to a growing list of demands from the community. Other terms include ensuring subways are ADA-compliant, preserving 2,000 existing affordable housing units, building affordable apartment units with specific square footage, and building a community center in the neighborhood of Highbridge.
Over the course of the Thanksgiving weekend, Diaz and his team conferenced with the de Blasio administration to hammer out solid commitments. They include funding to rehabilitate Aqueduct Walk, establishing anti-harassment housing policies, and delving into preserving the existing automotive sector on Jerome Avenue. The city has already begun making some commitments, including a $4.6 million earmark towards a park.
“The people of the Bronx are not opposed to improvements,” Diaz said in his statement. “In fact, we expect our fair share of community benefits. The residents who testified at my hearing last month asked for greater affordability, more significant tenant protections and assurances that this rezoning would work for everyone, including them. These commitments from the City are important steps towards these goals.”
The commitments are a positive step for Saunders, though she looks to keep the city on the hook with some of these stipulations by establishing a monitoring team comprised of members of community boards 4, 5, and 7 and other residents. “It will be a workforce,” said Saunders.
Gibson’s voice arguably matters the most throughout the process given how much the proposed zoning falls within her district. Her position will determine whether the New York City Council will vote in favor of the project. Council members typically defer their vote to the council member whose project presides in that district.
“This neighborhood plan is generated for us, for the residents that deserve everything that we are asking for,” said Gibson.