Crotona Park East and West Farms to get facelift
Reported on June 25, 2011
A local government unit in the South Bronx has approved a $400 million development project in the Crotona Park East and West Farms area.
Signature Urban Properties, a private real estate group, has purchased 5 acres in the area and is promising to build 10 high-rise buildings, with 1,200 units, a school and retail shops in the area.
The plan will take 7 years to complete. Twenty percent of the new development area will be reserved for affordable housing, according to the group’s proposal. The group is asking the city to rezone an entire 11-block area stretching over an old industrial area in West Farms to the more residential area of Crotona Park East.
Residents of the two neighborhoods have mixed feelings. Some want to profit from the business that the project promises to reel in. Jobs are badly needed and construction workers have their eye on the lucrative market. Meanwhile, the younger residents of Crotona worry they soon won’t be able to afford to live in the area.
A public meeting was organized by Bronx Community Board 3 to discuss the project at the Children’s Day Care Center on Fulton Avenue, on June 14. Construction workers and union leaders came in full force. They filled the room quickly, many of them huddled in the back of the room. The tension was palpable.
Mike Halperin, an organizer with Elevator Constructors Local 1 union made an appeal for fair wages.
“There are responsible contractors who pay the prevailing wage of the area. They give benefits to their employees, or they participate in benefit plans. And there are those who don’t who pay low wages, no fringe benefits and they keep people in poverty.”
Only two board members said they would support a stipulation in the contract with developers. Gifford Miller, 41, a former New York City Council speaker who is spearheading the project tried to quell their fears. As a council member in the past, he was involved in several rezoning projects.
“We plan to replace an industrial derelict area with a vibrant residential one. We hope to have a positive impact by providing good jobs and retail opportunities to local entrepreneurs,” said Miller.
“I do feel this is the best design I have seen since the housing boom in the late 1990s,” said Gale Nathan the executive director of Bronx River Art Center.
Many of the board members around the table nodded their heads in agreement. After a unanimous vote in favor of the project, people began to file out of the room.
Morgan Powell, a 29-year-old African-American landscape writer and designer was outraged.
“This is unvarnished gentrification,” he said.
Powell said he did not believe the local residents could afford to live in the area once the project was done.
“What else would you call market rate housing in a community where incomes are not rising? Then you have to ask yourself: Who would be able to afford these apartments once they become available?”
He was the only one to voice his dissent in a nearly empty room. The board had already moved on to the next item on their agenda.
Meanwhile, the head of the rezoning project, Gifford Miller maintains that affordable housing was key to the success of the project.
“We certainly plan to have a mix of income related opportunities that will complement the rest of the community and low and moderate income for housing. If we can’t, the development part won’t work. It needs to be affordable to the residents.”