Beep says ‘no’ shopping mall yet

Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. waited. Diaz Jr. negotiated. But on Friday, September 4, the borough president issued a “no” recommendation on the shopping mall The Related Companies plan to build at the Kingsbridge Armory. Related has yet to sign a community benefits agreement, he said.

Diaz Jr. issued the recommendation in the context of the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), and issued it 11 days late. The borough president let a Monday, August 24 deadline for his recommendation pass in order to meet with Related again. The recommendation will be considered non-compliant but will be reviewed nonetheless.

In July, Community Board 7 issued a “yes” recommendation on the mall, with neighborhood-friendly conditions. One of those conditions was that Related sign a benefits agreement.

“While I cannot offer my approval to this proposal at this time, I am hopeful that the developer will continue negotiations with my office and the community stakeholders to craft a strong community benefits agreement that allows both the developer and our neighbors to prosper,” Diaz Jr. said.

The City Planning Commission held a hearing on Wednesday, September 9 and will issue its own recommendation. The City Council will issue a recommendation, and then Mayor Michael Bloomberg will weigh in. The ULURP allows Bloomberg to veto prior recommendations; the mayor is behind the Related mall and is opposed to benefits agreements. The ULURP allows the City Council to override Bloomberg with a two-thirds vote.

In 2008, Related won a bid to redevelop the armory. The mega-developer plans to build a $310 million mall at the northwest Bronx landmark, and is set to benefit from tens of thousands of dollars in tax breaks. The city spent $30 million to refit the armory roof in 1998 and has offered the abandoned behemoth to Related for $5 million.

Diaz Jr. worked with armory stakeholders like the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance to draft a benefits agreement, then released it to Related on Monday, August 17. The borough president and union boss Stuart Appelbaum held a press conference at the armory to highlight the benefits agreement; it stipulates that Related guarantee retail workers at its mall a living wage – $10 an hour plus benefits.

It also stipulates that Related observe union neutrality, perform first-source neighborhood hiring, offer space to northwest Bronx non-profits at below-market rates, maintain neighborhood parks, landscape a public plaza at Reservoir Avenue and Kingsbridge Road, and forbid the establishment of a new supermarket or big-box wholesale club at the armory.

“Diaz Jr. has shown great courage,” KARA member Appelbaum said.

KARA is steered by the Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union and the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. The mall is expected to generate 1,200 part-time and full-time jobs.

“We will not allow our armory to be used solely as a profit center for Related,” Fordham Hill resident and KARA member Desiree Pilgrim-Hunter said. “This is a public project and its development must improve the lives of working people in the community.”

In his recommendation, Diaz Jr. also pointed to potential ill effects of the mall on neighborhood traffic and existing businesses.

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