Furman Yards, an affordable housing development proposal in Wakefield, was denied approval by Community Board 12 leading to a heated exchange between the district manager and chair, and raising questions about board members’ preparation in anticipation of a vote.
The board voted 21-7 against JCAL Development Group’s 10-story development proposed for 4541 Furman Ave., with five abstentions on Thursday, Jan. 27 over parking concerns.
The community board only acts in an advisory role, however, and the City Council can still approve the project, which would consist of 35 studios, 66 one-bedroom units, 32 two-bedroom units and 17 three-bedroom spaces across two buildings, totaling 150 affordable units, with private outdoor space, as well as community facility and retail space.
William Bollinger, of JCAL Development Group, said the unit prices would range from $419-$1,013 per month for studios and $722-$2,273 for three-bedroom units. The site, which is currently home to a storage facility, is two blocks from the subway, and adjacent to elevated rails.
After the board denied the proposal, which ultimately included 46 parking spots, CB12 District Manager George Torres scolded the decision in what Land Use Committee Chairman Karl Stricker, who voted against the proposal, called a “lecture.” Torres said the developer’s proposal to shift the zone to R7 could prevent more homeless shelters from coming to the area, as construction of temporary lodging is permitted under the current M1-1 zone, but not apartment buildings. A shelter is already planned for the same block, according to Torres.
“You guys have to be mindful about what we’re asking for,” Torres said. “This is a beautiful building right across the street from the MTA rail yard and you’re saying no.”
The developers are seeking a zoning amendment for R7D and C2-4 districts to allow apartments with retail space, which they say would be an extension of a 2019 rezoning granted to Enclave on 241st Street, another developer’s apartment building in the works, on the northward neighboring block.
Board member Beatriz Coronel, who abstained from the vote, said she would have voted if Torres spoke about the zoning prior to the vote, and said there should be a revote. Board member Denise Bond also questioned why Torres waited to speak up, before “chastising” the board.
“We are not experts here,” said Bond, who voted against the proposal. “We are volunteering our time and we are trying to learn.”
But Torres argued that it is the responsibility of board members to research proposals, saying the developers presented to the board and Land Use Committee several times since October 2019, and the zoning had been discussed multiple times.
“You joined the community board,” Torres said. “Our first responsibility is planning and zoning. This is your personal responsibility. If you have questions, you raise it during the Land Use meeting — that is where we have these debates.”
Board Chairman Michael Burke Jr., who voted against the proposal, said he is comfortable with the way the board voted.
Torres, who lives in Co-op City, said the only difference between this project and the approved Enclave is that “the chairman of this board has been leading the cause to be anti-development” and people are “poisoning the well.” CB12 unanimously supported the Enclave proposal in 2018, which had more units and fewer parking spots than Furman Yards.
Burke refuted Torres’ claim.
“I don’t want to hear that crap about, you know, I’m anti-development, because that’s not a true statement at all,” Burke said.
Before the board’s rejection, the developers said they would double their proposed 22 parking spaces to 46 spaces by adding parking attendants and stacked parking, but it wasn’t enough for board members who felt there should be more parking provided with a 150-unit project.
Josh Weissman, of JCAL Development Group, told the Bronx Times on Monday that the planners are trying to see if they can add more parking, and if they can, they will. But he said if they can add more, it would likely be about 5-10 more spots.
Weissman declined to comment on the board’s rejection of the proposal.
Meanwhile, Councilman Eric Dinowitz, who represents the project area and is seen as having massive influence over whether the City Council approves the project, said on Tuesday — more than two weeks after the vote — that the version of the proposal he is aware of just has 22 parking spaces. The Riverdale Progressive, who said the neighborhood is “parking starved” and doesn’t have as robust public transportation as other parts of the city, said he was pleased to learn about the increased parking and looks forward to discussing it with the community.
Reach Aliya Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.