A sense of concern and outrage is brewing in Throggs Neck about a possible conversion of an office building into an unwanted use.
Commercial tenants at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard received letters to vacate the property, and community leaders have formed a coalition to fight a possible alcohol and drug rehab program.
Complaints have been filed with the city about beds being moved into the building or illegally converting it into a residential building, with some folks planning to take legal action against the landlord because they have leases, according to multiple sources.
Homeowners and renters are also circulating petitions to protest what appears to be “a substance-abuse rehabilitation program recruiting staff” to work in the building and lack of community notice or engagement on what may be sited at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.
“The community is definitely mobilized,” said Steven Kaufman, an attorney who is leading the Throggs Neck Strong coalition looking into the matter, adding “I believe with mobilization, we might be able to stop what they want to do.”
Tenants in the building say they got letters over the last two weeks telling them to vacate the building by September, said Bobby Jaen, Throggs Neck Merchants Association president and coalition member.
So far, at least 20 complaints have been logged with the NYC Department of Buildings, including those concerning “commercial space that is being turned into residential space” and those saying tenants see “beds, dressers, mirrors and chairs,” being moved in.
As of press time, a meeting of the Throggs Neck Strong coalition has been planned for the Crosstown Diner on Thursday, August 3, with Jaen expecting around 125 people, following a lot of community organizing and petitioning that led to a forceful showing at an earlier impromptu meeting on Friday, July 28.
Anthony Mameli, Charles Ruttenberg Realty’s Bronx commercial real estate manager, said the company was planning a grand opening for its new office at the building before they were told that the building was sold and they had to vacate.
“We signed leases and moved in on June 1st of this year, so after two months of us being here the landlord told us they are terminating our lease,” he said.
Mameli said he spoke with Michael Fernandes, purportedly the building’s new owner through his company called Steward Redevelopment.
Mameli said that Fernandes told him that he is a partner with the building’s longtime owner, Dalessio Enterprises of Scarsdale, and that based on his research online Steward Redevelopment is a company that works with landlords to develop transitional housing.
“Once they started bringing beds, furniture, cabinets and drawers, we started getting the feel of what’s happening,” said Mameli.
Additionally, Mameli said that people with housing vouchers have been showing up at the building looking for Steward Redevelopment’s offices in the building, and some said they were moving in.
Fernandes contacted the Bronx Times, and said he is the new owner of the building, having purchased the building’s LLC from Dalessio Enterprises for an amount greater than $6.6 million. He said that the previous owner is no longer involved.
Fernandes said that his company, Steward Redevelopment, does have housing in upstate counties, but is leaning towards the creation of a wellness center.
The center, which he dubbed Miracle City Wellness Center, might include a ‘sensory gym’ for children with autism and might perhaps retain some existing medical tenants.
Fernandes denied he is promoting transitional housing at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard numerous times during the phone call.
Meanwhile, despite assurances from Fernandes, rumors and fear continue to swirl.
In addition to all the intrigue, on Facebook residents also found a posting that advertised for people to work at a new entity called the “Islamic Wellness Center,” which the post indicates would be at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.
According to the Facebook item posted by Hamzah Alameen, this wellness center would include “inpatient detox” and that they were looking for “behavioral health staffing.”
Fernandes said he did not have knowledge about the Islamic Wellness Center, indicating that his wellness center is not the same entity.
Congressman Joseph Crowley, who had an office in the building until recently, said in a statement that Mayor de Blasio’s office “has made clear there are no current plans to use the office building for the purposes of a homeless shelter.”
“While I appreciate the city’s assurances, working with local communities and their elected officials should remain a crucial part of their process when considering any shelters or interim housing proposals in our neighborhoods,” said Crowley, adding he plans on closely monitoring the situation.
According to Senator Jeff Klein’s office, both the city and state have informed their office that there were no plans for a homeless shelter, and that the city also said no one had reached out about planned social services at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.
State agencies that regulate and license a detox or recovery program have not received any applications for 2800 Bruckner Boulevard, said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, who is also opposing the rumored proposal.
Assemblyman Mark Gjonaj and Benedetto will be meeting with Alameen on Friday, August 5.
Councilman James Vacca Vacca said that the Certificate of Occupancy for 2800 Bruckner Boulevard does not allow for overnight stays.
Local residents have mobilized quickly because they are concerned.
Roxana Cheng, a nearby homeowner, said she was concerned about residential property values and the safety of community children if a rehabilitation facility were to open at 2800 Bruckner Boulevard.