On Saturday, October 23, several members of Community Board 7 and officials from the city Planning Department walked past the auto-repair shops, bodegas and abandoned lots along the roughly 2-mile stretch of Webster Avenue and imaged what could be.
The city is proposing to rezone the corridor to allow for more development in the northern end, near East Gun Hill Road, and for more neighborhood preservation in the southern portion of the road, near Bedford Park.
“Right now it looks like a backyard,” said community boardmember Paul Foster. “We want some commercial traffic, we want offices and places that cater to the resident’s needs. We want places for sitting, so people can listen to music or get something to eat. Just like in Manhattan or any other borough.”
According to community board and city officials, the zoning changes should strike a balance between the need for more affordable housing in the area, while protecting the middle and working class opportunities. Officials expect the changes will mean more than 700 units of affordable housing and about 100,000 square feet of retail, office and restaurant space.
The changes include establishing height limits between 75 and 30 feet for new businesses and ensuring that a all new buildings have ground-floor retail space that would encourage foot traffic and job growth.
While many agree that amenities like parking and hotels are a must for the area and the Bronx, there have been some troubles attracting them in the past.
The current zoning allows for mostly small-scale, heavy industrial and commercial uses, such as auto-related businesses. The regulations have been in place cine 1961, when the Third Avenue elevated train ran along Webster Avenue. Although the train was taken down, the east side of the street is adjacent to the Metro North Trains, which has limited the kind of facilities looking to move to the area.
“The big problem with the zoning is that we’re a little hands-off,” said Carol Samol, director of the department’s Bronx office. “We’d like zoning here to be a little more predictable.”
“I think it’ll be a good thing,” said 30-year resident of the area, Lamonte Carmichael. “Especially in the residential areas it just looks bleak. We’ve got a lot of open spaces and it’s a great area, right next to the Botanical Garden and the Zoo.”
The community board has until December 6 to review the plans before they will be passed on to the borough president for review and a public hearing. The city Planning Commission will have an additional 60 days to review the plan, after the borough president, before it is turned over to the city council for another public hearing and a final vote into law. Officials hope that by February the proposed changes will be enacted.