An affordable housing project that may spark a host of similar changes for a tiny street in the Westchester Square vicinity just received approval during its Uniform Land Use Review Procedure.
The City Planning Commission okayed a zoning change that will permit a nine-story residential building known as Blondell Commons to be constructed on a mostly industrial street at 1340 Blondell Avenue.
The vote on Wednesday, February 27 was a victory for much of the Square’s business community that supports the project in part because it would increase foot traffic and provide a sorely-needed 225-space parking garage that would be partially available for community use.
Westchester Square Business Improvement District chairman, John Bonizio, strongly urged City Planning in a letter to support the rezoning of the parcel of land from an M1-1 manufacturing zone to an R7A residential zone.
“We support this change primarily because this parcel has not been, and should not be, used for industrial purposes,” stated Bonizio. “For years, the warehousing of motor vehicles on this property has most likely created environmental issues that would remain unaddressed if the current zoning status is continued.”
The zoning change is one of the last obstacles the project, with its 228 apartments, faces.
Neither Community Board 10 nor Community Board 11 supported the project, although the project had a good number of supporters on both boards.
The project is in CB 11 but across the street from CB 10, which is the community board where the Westchester Square BID is located.
The approval by CPC was expected, said Matt Cruz, CB 10 district manager, because City Planning is a mayoral agency and interested in building more affordable housing.
“The community board understands this was expected,” said Cruz. “Now this goes before the NYC City Council where Councilman Mark Gjonaj will have a crack at it.”
Al D’Angelo, CB 11 chairman, said that the board didn’t support the project because there was community opposition to the proposal.
A spokesman for Gjonaj said that the councilman is still in the process of making sure that community concerns are addressed, such as the lack of students seats.
The possible addition of a school somewhere in the Square’s business district would help address the fact that the new building is zoned for a school that is already at approximately 150 percent capacity, said the spokesman.
Some have suggested placing a charter school in the building’s ground floor space.
A hearing on the ULURP is scheduled at the NYC Council on Tuesday, March 19, said Gjonaj’s spokesman, adding that their office is in an ongoing conversation with the developer.
Supporters of the mixed-use building, which will have ground floor commercial space and approximately 189,000 square feet of residential space, hailed the CPC decision.
Alex Garoni, a Blondell Avenue resident who represented the merchants and plan’s supporters at a CPC public hearing, said that this will be a positive development.
“It is definitely going to help the community and those needing affordable housing,” said Garoni. “It will definitely uplift the economy on the Square.”
Garoni, a former Westchester Square merchant, said the commercial district is in need of more foot traffic and the additional parking would help bring people into the shopping area.
A statement from the developer, Exact Capital, said that they were delighted to have the support of CPC.
“With all of the benefits this project presents to the community we are optimistic the city council will approve it,” read the statement. “Blondell Commons provides much needed affordable housing with a special allocation for veterans.”
The statement also read: “Significant change in the form of development is often met with questions and even resistance; however the majority of residents and business owners are enthusiastic about this project, which reflects the attention we gave to their views.”
Sandi Lusk, leader of the Westchester Square Zerega Improvement Organization, expressed the opposite view, and said that to get her organization’s support the number of stories in the building would have to be reduced, from nine to six, to make it more contextual with other Square properties.
“I would say build it in the context of the area,” said Lusk, adding that she feels the project size is too extreme for the community.