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Armory plan passes

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Boom. The Related Companies absorbed a cannonball of sorts on Monday, October 19, as four City Planning Commission (CPC) members rebuffed its Kingsbridge Armory shopping mall plan. But the plan sails on. Related won the CPC vote eight to four.

Members loyal to Borough President Diaz Jr., Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum voted “no.” Members appointed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Queens Borough President Helen Marshall and Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro voted “yes.” Mayoral appointee Maria Del Toro, a YMCA administrator, was recused.

Diaz Jr. opposed Related in September. He and the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) protested the “yes” votes at City Hall on October 19. Diaz Jr. described Related’s plan as “a bad deal for the Bronx” and blamed the developer for stalled negotiations. He and KARA want Related to sign a community benefits agreement and guarantee a living wage – $10 an hour plus benefits – for workers at the planned armory mall.

“We are not asking for anything radical or extreme,” Diaz Jr. said. “We are simply asking that…[Related] allow Bronxites a chance to provide for their families.”

Community benefits agreements are irrelevant to the land use review process, CPC chair Amanda Burden and Related lawyer Jesse Masyr said. Masyr referred to accusations of Related by Diaz Jr. as “sophomoric” and stated that the developer has negotiated with the borough president. Related was disappointed at the 8-4 vote, he added.

“[Diaz Jr.] seems more interested in putting out press releases…than in having a worthwhile discussion,” Masyr said.

KARA leader and Fordham Hill resident Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter was “disappointed but not surprised” at the CPC result. Pilgrim-Hunter blamed Bloomberg, who fears that a strong benefits agreement at the armory would set an anti-business precedent, she said. Pilgrim-Hunter thinks that the armory plan, as is, would result in gentrification. Related plans to generate more than a thousand jobs – low-wage jobs, Pilgrim-Hunter contends.

“We are the poorest urban county in the country,” she said. “We don’t need a mall.”

Related has promised to set aside part of the armory for education and recreation. It plans to use union labor to build the mall. But it has refused to budge on living wage. Two “no” vote CPC members expressed regret that the armory supermarket battle is unresolved, Morton Williams Supermarkets owner and KARA member Avi Kaner said. Morton Williams wants to block any new supermarket from the armory. Kaner felt that the “split vote” sends a strong message to the City Council.

Community Board 7 chair Greg Faulkner, who led CB7 to a “yes” vote with conditions, is less sure. Faulkner had hoped that Queens and Staten Island would stand by the Bronx, he said. Faulkner thinks that stakeholders need to “pull Related to the table” for negotiations and suggested that the City Council pass a living wage law. Related has stated that it would abide by such a law. Faulkner fears that Related will attempt a City Council win sans-benefits agreement but praised Diaz Jr. as “courageous.”

Councilwoman Maria Baez, who represents Kingsbridge Heights, is behind Morton Williams but has yet to state her support for a living wage guarantee. Baez lost some authority at City Hall when she fell to Fernando Cabrera in her Democratic primary.

On cue from AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who visited the armory in September, union bosses from SEIU, the United Federation of Teachers, DC37 and the construction trades have asked City Hall to back KARA. KARA will rally at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church on Sunday, October 25.

“We intend to win,” she said. “We hope to get [Baez] to stand with us shortly.”

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