Armory vote to the BP

Community Board 7 voted to approve, with conditions, The Related Companies’ plan to build a shopping mall at the Kingsbridge Armory. Photo by Daniel Beekman

Community Board 7 voted to approve a shopping mall plan for the city-owned Kingsbridge Armory on Tuesday, July 16, provided that mega-developer The Related Companies abide by neighborhood-friendly conditions.

CB7 did not, however, list “living wage” as a condition. The Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance, an umbrella group steered by the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and Morton Williams Supermarkets, has demanded that Related guarantee a living wage – $10 an hour plus benefits – for retail workers at the 575,000 square foot landmark.

Additionally, CB7 voted to recommend that Related seek a supermarket of the organic persuasion to open at the new mall. Morton Williams ownership has argued that a Whole Foods or Costco would drive two Morton Williams stores out of business and result in the loss of 200-500 jobs held by Bronx residents.

The plan will soon 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 mere recommendations.

Some 150 people attended the tense evening vote. CB7 heard testimony from KARA and Morton Williams, elected officials and unaffiliated Bronx residents. KARA member Doug Cunningham, a pastor, asked CB7 to vote no. Related has yet to sign a community benefits agreement, Cunningham said. The developer has sneered at living wage.

Although CB7 member Andrew Laiosa later moved to include living wage as a condition, he was shot down. KARA and CB7 belong to a community benefits agreement task force headed by Diaz Jr. The task force will negotiate a living wage, borough planner Wilhelm Ronda and CB7 chair Greg Faulkner said.

Morton Williams shopper John Rozankowski urged CB7 to defend hardworking supermarket cashiers. Morton Williams owner Avi Kaner warned CB7 to observe the Kingsbridge Armory request for proposals; a clause forbids the duplication of existing neighborhood businesses.

Anthony Rivieccio recalled watching boxing on closed circuit television at the armory, vacant for years. Elizabeth Thompson stressed the need for a youth center; Thompson’s son was murdered when he was 16. Marvin Almengor prophesied gentrification. Mohammed Saddiq suggested that Related build a skateboard park in the armory.

Community Board 4 member Susan Mendoza urged CB7 to use caution. CB4 failed to secure a sufficient community benefits agreement at the Gateway Center shopping mall, also a Related development, she said. Councilman Oliver Koppell reasoned that a yes vote with conditions would win the attention of the City Council; Assemblyman Jose Rivera disagreed. Vote no, Rivera said. Related is buying the armory for $5 million and is set to receive tens of millions of dollars in tax credits.

There were four resolutions. CB7 voted to rezone the armory for commercial development. Of the 26 board members present, there were four nos. It voted to de-map a traffic triangle to facilitate beautification on Related’s dime. Four members voted no. It voted to de-map the armory annex, as long as the Department of Education agrees to build two schools there. There were two nos.

Finally, it voted to sell Related the armory on ten conditions: a community benefits agreement, a market survey of Kingsbridge Heights residents, union labor during construction, community space, a world peace atrium, sustainable design, a youth recreation facility, free Internet access and an advisory panel. In a letter sent the day of the vote, Related agreed in principle to each. It has promised 1000 construction jobs and 1200 retail jobs, full time and part time.

CB7 member Cynthia O’Neal moved to exclude a supermarket from the armory and was defeated. John Harris initiated the pro-supermarket motion. Seven CB7 members voted against Harris. When the motion passed, a crowd of Morton Williams employees stormed out. When CB7 omitted living wage, young KARA members shouted and were escorted away by police.

Five CB7 members voted no on the conditional sale. Neither Laiosa nor Helene Hartman felt comfortable with the general nature of Related’s commitments.

“The devil is in the details,” Laiosa said.

Almengor labeled the vote a disaster but Faulkner seemed pleased. Diaz Jr. will help negotiate a community benefits agreement, he said. Councilwoman Maria Baez will weigh in. Faulkner had hoped to vote in September but the Bloomberg administration rushed the plan to public review.

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