CB7 on the fence about affordable housing next to historic church in Fordham

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A rendering of the proposed affordable housing.
Photos courtesy of St. James Episcopal Church

Plans to construct affordable housing next to a historic church in Fordham led to a two-and-a-half hour heated debate between the Community Board 7 Housing Committee meeting on Sept. 15.

The plan is for Dattner Architects to build a nine-story building for affordable housing at the landmarked St. James Episcopal Church at 2500 Jerome Ave. But the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is required to obtain a Certificate of Appropriateness as the proposed work affects the architectural features of the landmark property.

“We think this will make our neighborhood even more of a welcoming place,” said Reverend Matt Oprendek of the church.

The committee didn’t disapprove of the project, but planned to send a letter to LPC saying they felt the building would overshadow the church and St. James Park and asked that the height of the building be reduced so it’s below the peak of the church.

Currently, the church is 58 feet above elevation at the corner of Jerome Avenue and E. 190th Street and the new development will be 66 feet in total.

Board member Myrna Calderon felt that this would not benefit CB7. She questioned if developers planned to meet with residents to see how they feel about the project.

“It does not meet the standard [for appropriateness],” she said. “It changes the whole church landscape. I’m very concerned about the impact on the neighborhood. Yes we need low income housing, but we are oversaturated.”

Denise Relf shared Calderon’s concerns.

“We have a lot of new development and it’s overwhelming our community, especially when these developments provide nothing more than housing,” Relf said. “The quality of life is being impacted by the community overcrowding.”

Another issue Relf brought up is that the building lacks parking.

“I am still greatly concerned by the absence of parking,” Relf explained. “Listening to the purpose of this presentation, I can understand if this is not the space to discuss it, and yet, I am still left with an uneasy feeling when it comes to the overall impact this could have on the existing and incoming residents.”

In July, the church filed plans to build a 96 foot high residential mixed-use building with 103 apartments for individuals and families, including formerly homeless individuals and households earning 30 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) to 80 percent AMI. Half of the units are permanent supportive housing for homeless adults with preference for veterans. There will be 73,233 square feet for residential space and 21,146 square feet for community space.

The plans called for a mix of studios, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments and funding for the renovation of the historic church.

Developers planned to create the 5,200 square foot St. James Community Center, which would be operated by St. James. There are also plans to expand St. James’ soup kitchen and food pantry, which the church has been operating since 2017.

Supportive services will be provided by the nonprofit Concern for Independent Living. Amenities will include a resident superintendent, on-site property management, and social service staff, a laundry room, multipurpose room and computer room, fitness room, second floor and roof-top terraces and a landscaped courtyard.

Concern for Independent Living Executive Director Ralph Fasano said this will be good for the community. With nearly 60,000 homeless people in NYC, he stressed that supportive housing is needed.

“People are struggling,” he said. “We feel very good about being part of the solution.”

Other programs will include regularly-scheduled financial wellness seminars, community organizing space and after-school programs for school-aged children in the neighborhood. The space will also be available to neighboring community service organizations and Community Board 7.

One resident, who chose to remain nameless, explained she is a homeowner and this new affordable housing will oversaturate the neighborhood and bring property values down. She noted it will block St. Mary’s Park and on top of that, there is affordable housing at St. James and Creston Avenue and Kingsbridge and E. 196th Street.

“I’m tired of this being a dump for every developer who comes in here,” she exclaimed. “The building is going to be a complete eyesore.”

She stressed that the community board needs to hold the developer accountable. The resident questioned what the qualifications for a Certificate of Appropriateness are and if this project is worthy of one.

“This is horrible,” she said. “This is very upsetting for the community.”


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