Carpenters’ union joins Bruckner rezoning opposition, questions remain about potential downsize of 8-story building

Foodtown with truck
The Bruckner Boulevard rezoning proposal made its way before a City Council subcommittee on Sept. 7, the beginning of a process that could lead to a final approval of the project. But the applicant lacks support from one of the city’s major unions after negotiations fell apart.
Photo Aliya Schneider

The New York carpenters’ union has joined the opposition to the proposed Bruckner Boulevard rezoning, for which questions remain as developers consider a downsize.

The rezoning is being requested for a four-site development that would bring 349 apartment units, including 168 income-restricted units — 99 of which are designated for seniors serviced through the Jewish Association Serving the Aging — and 22 rent-free units for veterans financed through the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, a picture that provides more affordable housing than the project’s initial iteration, which included a total of just 94 affordable units. A new supermarket is also promised to replace the Throggs Neck Super Foodtown as part of the project, and the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, which is currently located at the New York City Housing Authority’s Throggs Neck Community Center, has been offered community space on one of the project sites that the organization says will help them expand their reach.

But one of the city’s major trade unions, the New York District Council of Carpenters, stands against the project, with Joseph Geiger, the union’s executive secretary and treasurer, encouraging City Council members to vote against the project in a statement because the union is excluded from the proposal, joining the local Community Board 10 and local Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez in opposition to the proposed rezoning.

In an interview with the Bronx Times, Kevin Elkins, the New York District Council of Carpenters’ director of political action, said that the applicant — Throggs Neck Associates LLC, an entity made up of a handful of local property owners — extended an offer to the union, but the two sides were far apart in what they were envisioning for an arrangement, according to Elkins.

Mayor Eric Adams rallied with union members in support of a proposed Bruckner Boulevard rezoning before a public hearing on Wednesday. Photo Aliya Schneider

The carpenters’ union has a significant number of members in the district, according to Elkins, who said the union ultimately wants to put its members to work while ensuring they get good benefits and pay at a safe site.

We’re always willing to sit down with anyone and everyone, but the ball is not in our court to do that,” he said of the prospects of an agreement.

Elkins would not comment on what specifically was wrong with the applicant’s offer citing private negotiations.

The applicant team did not comment on the carpenters’ union’s lack of involvement when reached by the Bronx Times.

Problems were revealed publicly between the union and development team at the open of the City Council Land Use Committee’s Zoning and Franchises Subcommittee public hearing on Wednesday, in which more than 200 people signed up to testify for-and-against the project.

Velázquez said that while the project has drawn support from certain unions — referencing 32BJ SEIU and Laborers Local 79 — she has yet to see commitments in writing that unions will be involved, also asking about carpenters’ union involvement in her opening remarks. Velázquez shared concerns about the project at the hearing, but did not directly state that she plans to vote against it. But her team confirmed with the Bronx Times after the hearing that she remains opposed to the project, in line with the public statements she has made for months.

During the hearing, Oona Adams, the assistant director of organizing for Laborers Local 79, said the union worked with the development team for about a month to secure a memorandum of understanding that guarantees local hiring and John Tritt, deputy political director of 32BJ SEIU said the union has a written agreement with developers. Both unions rallied in support of the project on Aug. 30 and again before the hearing on Wednesday alongside Mayor Eric Adams.

However, Queens Councilmember Lyn Shulman, a member of the committee who said she is committed to affordable housing, said at the hearing Wednesday she was “a little bit dismayed” that the New York District Council of Carpenters wasn’t involved in the project, questioning if discussions between the applicant and union were done in good faith.

Jaclyn Scarinci of Akerman LLP, who presented on behalf of applicant Throggs Neck Associates LLC, said it’s her understanding that the conversations were had in good faith but an agreement wasn’t reached. When Shulman asked if the carpenters could be made part of the project, Scarinci, a lawyer, said she couldn’t answer that question.

Questions also remain about the size of the four-site plan, which has been branded as an upzoning by local residents who have rallied to hold onto their low-density growth management zoning provisions implemented in 2004 under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The proposal has included two 8-story buildings as well as a 3-story building and 5-story building, and while no changes have officially been announced, the development team suggested a downsize of one of the 8-story buildings to 6 floors.

After receiving what she called “inaccurate information,” Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson declared at the hearing that the applicant agreed to lower an 8-story building proposed for the corner of Crosby Avenue, where Super Foodtown is currently located, to five floors, per her recommendation in support of the project, with conditions.

Councilmember Kevin Riley, left, a Baychester Democrat, chaired the public hearing on Wednesday alongside Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez. Photo Aliya Schneider

The developers, however, confirmed with the Bronx Times that Gibson was incorrect, rather, they are considering lowering it to 6 floors.

“Our priority is a building that can support the current proposed level of housing, including affordable,” a spokesperson for the project told the Bronx Times. “We are studying potential options that could include reducing the height to 6 stories.”

However, while the applicant team remained vague about a commitment to lowering the building, a spokesperson for the borough president’s office told the Bronx Times that the applicant agreed to reduce the building height to 6 stories as long as they get the R6A zoning they are requesting for the site.

The spokesperson said Gibson still supports the project, and that the miscommunication about 5 stories was referring to the number of floors with residential units, as the first floor will be used for a supermarket.

It’s not the first time the developers provided different information than a city entity, however, with the number of units in question two days before the City Planning Commission vote.

Harry Celentano, the director of store operations at the Throggs Neck Super Foodtown (right), speaks in support of the project alongside three Foodtown employees who also spoke in favor of the proposal. Photo Aliya Schneider

At the hearing, advocacy groups and union members, including district residents, emphasized the need for affordable, senior and veteran housing, union jobs and local commerce.

Harry Celentano, who said he has owned a home in the community and worked as the director of store operations at Super Foodtown for the last 19 years, testified in support of the project alongside other Foodtown employees (Joe Bivona, the store owner, is part of the applicant team.)

“Most of the parcels in this proposal lay on the service road for the Bruckner Expressway and are not smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood,” Celentano said. “The majority of them, as many mentioned today, aren’t being used at all. They are vacant lots and closed down businesses, and why anybody would be against putting any kind of housing up on land like that is beyond me.”

But the site’s location along the Bruckner was also used to argue against the project, with some residents saying people don’t want to live along highways and others citing high asthma rates in the borough. And regardless of the exact project site, residents fear the development will invite other large developments to the area.

From left, local residents John Cerini, George Havranek, Janine Franciosa, Mary Jane Musano and Andrew Chirico speak against the proposal in the City Council chambers on Wednesday. Photo Aliya Schneider

Additionally, while the argument that there are vacant lots in the proposal has been used to convey support of the project, some residents used this against the owners by saying they could have rented to local business owners but instead let storefronts sit empty.

“It would be more judicious of this council to deny this proposal and let our community instead seek innovative developers with skills to repurpose already built unused commercial space into private residences,” said Janine Franciosa, a Pelham Bay resident. “ … These developers deserve no more privilege than any other past developer that has followed our zoning laws. Our community is asking for reasonable change management that aligns with our infrastructure, not to be exploited and colonized through greedy agendas.”

Along with concerns about crowding in schools, traffic congestion, lack of transit access, strained sewer system and flooding — which Borough President Gibson argued should be addressed regardless of the development — residents showed skepticism of the property owners, with some criticizing the owners’ financial competency, citing the applicant’s claims that the Throggs Neck Super Foodtown can’t afford to keep its doors open if the project doesn’t get approved.

“In over 30 years of community service, I have never seen my board and the community it serves so united,” Community Board 10 Chair Joseph Russo said at the hearing, pointing to the Housing and Zoning Committee’s vote of 13-0 against the project, with one recusal, and the full board’s near-unanimous vote with just one person voting in support of the project. ” … While I recognize that the board is purely advisory, we do serve at your behest as your eyes and ears on the local level.”

Reach Aliya Schneider at [email protected] or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

More from Around NYC