Norwood News 2017 Year in Review

The Norwood News produced a total of 284 stories (not counting Public & Community Meetings, Neighborhood Notes and Out & About) throughout the 25-issue print run for 2017. The issues the paper called attention to ranged, though some stories bore greater urgency in the hopes action from local legislators could be taken. Below are some topics that surfaced and resurfaced throughout the last 12 months, and are once again highlighted in the Norwood News’ annual Year in Review:

Homeless Crisis
Norwood was not immune to homelessness, an issue that continues pressing across the city. In the 25 Norwood News issues printed in 2017, the topic of homelessness landed on the front page of the paper four times, more than any other topic.

Norwood to City: No Shelter at Sam's Carpeting
A HOMELESS MAN (pictured) is spotted outside the new Fordham Plaza Center on Fordham Road.
File photo by Aaron Mayorga

Coverage of the topic began in 2017 when the New York City Department of Homeless Services announced its annual HOPE Count, a federally-mandated count of the city’s street homeless. The exercise is required for the city to receive federal money to combat homelessness. It turns out the Bronx saw a 453 percent climb in the number of street homeless that night, using a questionable formula.

Still, with the city obligated to find housing, it became prudent for Mayor Bill de Blasio to find housing while also scrapping the cluster site shelter model that became popular during the Bloomberg Administration. It’s now sought to build traditional shelters.

Norwood to City: No Shelter at Sam's Carpeting
COUNCILMAN ANDREW COHEN (at podium) at the demonstration says the proposed shelter across from PS/MS 20 is a bad idea.
File photo by David Cruz

Since August, talk of a shelter swirled around Sam’s Floor Covering, a successful carpeting store at 3041 Webster Ave. that rests diagonally across PS/MS 20 and the 52nd Precinct. It was revealed that the owner of the property was approached by Neighborhood Association for Inter-Cultural Affairs (NAICA), a nonprofit homeless shelter provider, to convert the business to a shelter and add another floor to the existing two-story structure. On Sept. 19, residents protested the possibility of a shelter, with legislators telling the city it’s simply not the best location for one. So far, the city has not decided whether to place a shelter at Sam’s Floor Covering. Sources have repeatedly told the Norwood News that a site at 3600 Jerome Ave. is now under consideration.

But not all new shelters are standard. In Fordham, crews completed a 135-unit affordable housing residence that will also house a first-floor homeless shelter for 200 working homeless men. The affordable housing/shelter combo developed by the Bowery Residents Committee and partly financed by the New York City Department of Homeless Services drew outcry from residents at the nearby Fordham Hill Oval Cooperative. In late summer, the board at the nine-building complex argued that the process to alert residents of the shelter wasn’t transparent enough. Residents have been fighting aggressively against allowing a certain segment of homeless into the property that the board’s president, Myrna Calderon, described as a prison after taking a tour. 

Construction once again took center stage in Norwood, where at least four projects are currently under way. Much of that development is happening on Webster Avenue between Mosholu Parkway and Webster Avenue. The Doe Fund is near construction of an 82-unit supportive/affordable housing site on Webster Avenue and East 204th Street.

THIS FUTURE STAGG property (pictured), currently under construction at 3084 Webster Ave. at the corner of East 203rd Street, may have to foot $83,000 in fines for violations filed by the New York City Department of Buildings.
File photo by David Greene

A block down, The Stagg Group looks to finish Norwood Gardens. Stagg hit a snag in May when the News reported several stop work orders were imposed onto the project after the city learned of improper construction happening there.

The Stagg Group is also set to build Mosholu Grand, a property at East Mosholu Parkway and Van Cortlandt Avenue South. For the last year, the project has been on hold as developers get their paperwork in order. Because the site was once a gas station and auto body shop, worries over whether it’s environmentally sound surfaced. A remediation plan has now been imposed by the city, prompting the Stagg Group to move forward with the project in March.

But while other development projects proceeded, at least one project remained at the wayside. That included the plan to revamp Mosholu Parkway, a proposal that gained some traction in 2015 and 2016 only to be placed on the back burner. 

The News’ borough-wide focus on development was made possible by a partnership with WFUV radio, where student reporters touched on development issues in the South Bronx, Parkchester, Fordham, and parts of Jerome Avenue.

But among the more borough-wide stories that came with nary a celebration was the approval of a state loan to developers of the Kingsbridge National Ice Center. The development, mired in delays, was approved for the $138 million loan earmarked for the first part of construction. It’s a development that was barely celebrated by legislators or the community alike as much of the decision-making happened in Albany.

Quality of Life
The NYPD served as friend and nuisance for the public when it came to quality of life concerns. A large heroin use epidemic within the jurisdiction of the 52nd Precinct saw a major bust in the Fordham/Bedford Park neighborhood. The section of Marion Avenue and East 194th Street was particularly highlighted following a major bust of a drug dealing gang in October. The suspects were accused of dealing heroin laced with fentanyl.

But while cops have locked up plenty of bad guys, residents have pointed to their flagrant use of parking at any given spot so long as a department-issued placard was placed on the dashboard. The abuse of the placard prompted the creation of the Twitter account Placard Abuse, which has generated plenty of pictures of officers from the 52nd Precinct using their placards to park on sidewalks. The citywide abuse of the problem prompted the de Blasio Administration to announce a crackdown of placard abusers. So far, the crackdown has been met with plenty of criticism by users of Placard Abuse, saying the city’s plan does not go far enough.

Still, crime took a dive in the Five-Two. The latest data obtained by the News shows major crimes down 14.95 percent when compared to the same time the previous year. Of the seven major crimes (murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny, and grand larceny auto), there was a slight increase in the number of reported grand larcenies with 630 this year compared to 628 the same time the previous year. 

The Bronx saw some significant changes to the political landscape with a Musical Chairs theme wrapped around it. In Norwood, residents said goodbye to Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj of Norwood’s 80th Assembly District. His interests in city affairs prompted him to go for the seat held by term-limited Councilman Jimmy Vacca. A slew of contenders vying for Gjonaj’s seat has now surfaced.

In Kingsbridge, veteran Councilman Fernando Cabrera defeated newcomer Randy Abreu. A lawyer for President Barack Obama’s Department of Energy, Abreu showed some political muster when it showed he raised $69,228 in campaign contributions. Much of the funds were from outside sources. Among the more high-profile donors from within the Bronx was Senator Gustavo Rivera, a known nemesis of Cabrera. Records show Rivera had given contributions totaling $2,925 to Abreu’s campaign.

Still, despite the sizable donations, Cabrera came out on top, securing 56 percent of the vote over Abreu’s 33 percent.

When it came to city affairs, Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, won a second term for mayor. Of the 5,547 votes counted in the November general election, de Blasio won Norwood, securing 2,305 votes, or 41.5 percent of the vote. His chief rival, Nicole Malliotakis, secured just 5.8 percent of the vote in the neighborhood.

Notable Deaths
The Bronx lost several local residents whose contributions to the neighborhood or sheer impact of their deaths caused the borough to pause.

Carlos Ortiz: A relentless booster of the NYPD, Ortiz died on Feb. 9 for causes still unknown. He was found in his apartment. Ortiz served as the sergeant-at-arms for the 52nd Precinct Community Council. Brenda Caldwell, the council’s president, said that Ortiz “loved his community; was so devoted in doing what he could to help and be involved in making a change and difference in our community.”

Andrew Sandler: Sandler’s brief time as Community Board 7 district manager was impactful enough that a street sign bearing his name is in the works. His death from cancer on Aug. 5 at the young age of 31 shocked many. It was clear that Sandler’s sense of public service was infectious for those who knew him. Several hundred showed up at his funeral in Riverdale.

Mary Valenti: One could consider Mary Valenti the village elder. She died at the age of 102 on Sept. 12 from pneumonia. Valenti raised a family in Bedford Park at a time when neighborly bonds were stronger than what they are today. She showed no fear in hounding bad neighbors on Mosholu Parkway, and she was a regular at the Bedford Park Community Association meetings well into her centenarian years. Her lasting legacy as a Bedford Park stalwart sparked a campaign to have a street named after her.

Miosotis Familia: The officer from the 46th Precinct was gunned down at East 183rd Street near Creston Avenue on the overnight hours of July 5 while on duty for the Fourth of July weekend. Her violent death inspired hundreds of police officers from around the country to attend her funeral.

SEA OF BLUE. Officers across the country line up on Grand Concourse to pay respects to fallen NYPD Officer Miosotis Familia.
Photo by Miriam Quinones

Belmont Fire Victims: The devastating fire at 2363 Prospect Ave. in Belmont shook the holiday season to the core. The accidental fire sent 12 people to their graves, ending 2017 on a painful note for residents in the five-story building.

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