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Armory opposition mounts

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The battle for development at the Kingsbridge Armory has taken on biblical proportions. At City Hall, members of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance and Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. testified. On the corner of Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue, northwest Bronx pastors, rabbis and imams led a crowd in prayer.

Diaz Jr. and KARA want The Related Companies to sign a binding community benefits agreement and agree to a living wage guarantee for retail workers at the armory. The City Planning Commission will next issue a recommendation on Related’s plan to build a $310 million shopping mall at the enormous landmark.

The City Council and Mayor Michael Bloomberg will also weigh in. Diaz Jr. issued a “no” recommendation when Related failed to sign a benefits agreement. Related is set to benefit from tens of thousands of dollars in tax breaks. The city spent $30 million to fix the armory roof in 1998 and has offered it to Related for a scant $5 million.

At the Department of City Planning hearing, KARA member and New Day United Methodist Church pastor Doug Cunningham asked DCP Commissioner Amanda Burden to consider what Related’s shopping mall, sans-benefits agreement, would do to the Kingsbridge Heights community: add low-wage / part-time / non-union jobs, shutter some existing businesses and usher in gentrification.

Diaz Jr. also testified. The borough president mentioned the as-yet unsigned benefits agreement: a living wage guarantee for retail workers at the armory, first-source neighborhood hiring, union neutrality, community space, a recreation center, a green public plaza, etc. Related has yet to perform a satisfactory business impact study, he said.

Nearly 20 members of the clergy and 400 congregants participated in the prayer event, held on Wednesday, September 9 to highlight the need for a living wage guarantee at the armory and ask God for help. Related has repeatedly described living wage as a “deal-breaker.”

“We’ve been to the hearings,” Cunningham said. “Tonight we bring it to a higher authority.”

Veronica Grumbs of Calvary United Methodist Church, an unemployed Caribbean immigrant, and Jose Luis of St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, a Stella D’oro cookie factory worker, stressed the need for good jobs in the northwest Bronx.

Father Tom Lynch of Our Lady of Angels Church led a prayer for the armory. The Creston Avenue Baptist Church choir had the crowd shout “hallelujah!”

“I asked for God’s blessing,” Lynch said. “People started to dance in the street. I couldn’t have told you who was a Catholic and who was a Protestant.”

Cunningham found the prayer event powerful and fulfilling.

“It was fantastic,” he said.

Rabbi Ari Weiss of Uri L’Tzedek Synagogue shared a prayer and had crowd members blow the shofar, or ram’s horn.

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