Demystifying development for the Jerome Avenue Rezoning project

What should take place on Jerome Avenue 

By Fernando P. Tirado

Jerome Avenue StudyAt the Bronx Parks Speak Up event at Lehman College on February 28th, I was very surprised to find members of the Department of City Planning discussing the proposed Jerome-Cromwell Study Area. Having been involved in a major rezoning initiative in my previous career, I began to ask some questions to the planners about what the zoning wanted to accomplish. Most of their responses were general, but pretty straightforward, such as “we are soliciting community input.” I made some further inquiries about whether or not the city was planning to downzone any of the areas to preserve some of the lower density housing in the area, or to reduce building heights on commercial strips to provide more sunlight. To these questions, their response was a simple “no”.

Reviewing their proposal, it is clear that the majority of the proposed zoning takes place in areas that are zoned for light industrial uses. This is not the first time that the city has been looking at this neighborhood for rezoning, but it seems to have picked up steam with Mayor de Blasio’s administration and its desire to create more affordable housing. And while that seems to be a noble endeavor, its implementation will be a lot harder to achieve if the community isn’t fully engaged from the beginning or contributes something to include in the plan.

There are a number of steps that the community should consider, and with the right information and guidance, avoid some of the recent mistakes made with other Bronx rezoning projects. Residents need to know what zoning is and what type of development they should expect and demand.

First, rezoning is not a magic bullet that will instantly transform a community. You can encourage or discourage development with a particular zoning, but the city can’t specify what a property owner can do with their property. The community has some dire needs; the most critical is more schools. The 2010 census showed that Community Board 5, where the bulk of the project is taking place, has the highest population density of any community board in the Bronx, in one of the most overcrowded school districts in the city.

Second, the quest for affordable housing can be a double-edged sword. Other communities that rezoned their neighborhoods hoping to attract mixed income and affordable housing have instead seen much of the available property gobbled up by not-for-profit, supportive housing developers whose plans include little or no apartments for Bronx residents. Instead, many of these occupants are people displaced from other areas in the city, leading to greater “gentrification” in those neighborhoods while overburdening the Bronx with individuals with chronic needs and further stressing the borough’s housing market.

So what should take place on Jerome Avenue? Residents should insist that some areas, particularly commercial corridors, have lower densities. Next, require new properties developed on Jerome Avenue be set back at least 15-20 feet, which would reduce construction costs and the number of apartment units in the area. Set-backs provide more walking space to accommodate existing or additional pedestrian traffic. And lastly, identify places where more schools, parks, and other community uses can be built.

Finally, the Bronx needs smarter development that creates active, vibrant neighborhoods making the quality of life better for everyone, oldtimers and newcomers alike. A community is not just a new building or business, it is the people. Your voice or lack thereof will determine what happens to your community.

It’s time to speak up.

Fernando P. Tirado is a former district manager for a Bronx Community Board and has been involved in local politics and economic development issues, particularly in the West Bronx. He also writes a Facebook Blog, Bronx On The Go.

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