Morton Williams Supermarkets employees stomped out of a Community Board 7 land use committee meeting on Tuesday, July 7. Even so, the committee endorsed Related Companies’ plan to build a shopping mall at the Kingsbridge Armory, albeit with a list of neighborhood-minded conditions.
Four separate resolutions passed, setting the stage for a CB7 general vote on Tuesday, July 14. The plan will subsequently pass to Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the City Council for review. Only the City Council has the power to block the plan; the borough president and CB7 issue recommendations.
On July 7, the CB7 land use committee voted without conditions to rezone the Kingsbridge Armory for commercial use. It voted to de-map Barn Hill – a traffic triangle at the intersection of W. Kingsbridge Road and Reservoir Avenue – plus the W. Kingsbridge Road terminus of Aqueduct Walk. It also voted to de-map a portion of W. 195th Street between Reservoir and Jerome avenues, on condition that the Department of Education agree to build two schools on site.
Lastly, the committee voted to transfer the city-owned Kingsbridge Armory to Related, on condition that the mega-developer sign a community benefits agreement, pay for an independent survey of Kingsbridge Heights residents, use union labor to build the mall, establish a “first source” hiring initiative, reserve 60,000 square feet of community space at $10 a square foot, create a world peace atrium, use storm water runoff to landscape, set aside space for a recreational facility, offer wireless or broadband Internet access, consult an advisory panel on potential tenants and finance a Kingsbridge Heights business improvement district and preservation corporation.
“Generally speaking, there was nothing that we find objectionable,” Related lawyer Jesse Masyr said.
Committee chair Ozzie Brown didn’t spell out how the conditions would be enforced, although CB7 chair Greg Faulkner indicated that the advisory panel would play a role and CB7 district manager Fernando Tirado suggested that the borough president and city council would add polish. Living wage was not among the conditions. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, dominated by Morton Williams and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, has demanded that Related guarantee a living wage for retail workers at the mall and has warned CB7 to vote no until Related agrees to do so. As defined by the city, a living wage is $10 an hour plus health benefits.
“I was surprised that living wage was left out,” said KARA member Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter, who attended the meeting.
Living wage will be addressed as part of the community benefits agreement, Faulkner said. Morton Williams is headquartered on Kingsbridge and operates a supermarket on Jerome Avenue. Avi Kaner is worried that Related will lease to a Whole Foods or BJ’s Wholesale despite a clause in the Kingsbridge Armory request for proposals that forbids the duplication of existing neighborhood businesses.
At the behest of CB7, Related included in an environmental assessment statement plans to bring a 60,000 square foot supermarket to the mall. The northwest Bronx is fresh food poor, according to a Department of City Planning study. A 60,000 square foot supermarket would shutter Morton Williams in the Bronx, Kaner said. Kaner has urged CB7 to flip-flop and save 250 union jobs. He, spin doctor Richard Lipsky and twenty-some Morton Williams employees left the meeting when Brown vetoed public comment.
“Shame on you,” Kaner said. “Rubber stamp!”
Kaner later termed the confrontation unfortunate. Morton Williams is generally pro-development, he said. Although the CB7 land-use committee discussed the supermarket question on July 7 – a handful of board members lamented the lack of organic food in the northwest Bronx – there was no supermarket vote. KARA has advocated for a farmer’s market at the armory, something CB7 also supports. Members of KARA and CB7 sit on a community benefits agreement task force headed by Diaz Jr. The task force has met twice.