January’s cold wasn’t enough to stop Co-op City residents’ blood from boiling during a protest of a partially built digital billboard.
Shouts of “take it down!” and “respect our community!” echoed on Baychester Avenue Thursday January 25 from local residents and elected officials alike enraged by advertising signs that glare into their neighborhood.
“Nowhere would you find something like this in the city of New York. Why are they putting it here?” said Assemblyman Michael Benedetto during the organized protest in front of the billboard’s property.
“This looks like a missile silo in preparation for a war with North Korea,” he added.
Towards the end of 2017, Baychester Retail III LLC installed a series of billboards on the recently developed property adjacent to I-95 on Baychester Avenue, at Bartow Avenue.
The newest one, currently under construction, could go as high as to 300 feet, the protesters fear.
Baychester Retail’s lack of transparency with the Co-op City community has sparked outrage and protest by many of its residents and public officials.
While the corner property is technically not in Co-op City, it does border the complex.
The parcel has a high zoning because it sits on the former grounds of Freedomland, an amusement park that closed in 1964.
It’s C-7 zoning allows for billboards such as these to be legally built, even in a residential area. The only other area that has similar zoning is in Coney Island.
“We are out here today because we feel our community has been violated and disrespected,” said Councilman Andy King, who organized the protest.
“We feel our community has been ignored,” King added.
Community Board 10 district manager Matthew Cruz reached out to Baychester Retail to have them meet with the community leadership.
However, in a defiant slap at the community, a representative from the company urged Cruz to encourage Co-op City residents to get used to the new signage.
“This isn’t just a community board issue, we’re rallying support on all sides,” said Cruz.
“Many of us may not live directly in its view but it effects us all,” said Riverbay Board member Leslie Peterson. “It is representative of the type of disrespect you will have going forward,” she added.
The property’s existing billboards are already subjecting the Mitchell-Lama residents to disruptive lighting that is invading the apartments in the evening, keeping some awake at night, while impacting their overall quality of life.
“I live in Building 21 which is about half a mile away from the sign and [the light] still gets in my home, even through my blinds,” said Michelle Sajous of Co-op City.
“These are homeowners, not just tenants. It’s a property owner’s neighborhood,” said Cruz.
The construction of the billboards is legal, but their brightness and quantity will be examined.
The newest billboard is capable of running up to 54 different advertisements.
Cruz has called upon the NYC departments of City Planning and Buildings to look into the billboards’ luminescence. That fight is ongoing.
Co-op City residents are also upset with the operational billboard’s content.
One frequently running ad promotes Jack Daniel’s whiskey in front of a basketball.
“This is nothing more than a pattern of ignorance. Our community is not for sale,” said Jerome Rice, president of the NAACP, Co-op City branch.
Rice had previously been involved in the NAACP’s fight to remove liquor advertisements from other communities in NYC.
“We are promoting a peaceful community, this is not what we want children and teenagers to be seeing,” he added.
Additional traffic is also on the mind of residents in the area. “This is making things worse at a time to make things better,” said Benedetto.
In past years, he had attained state funding to clear up congestion at the interchange of I-95 and the Hutchinson River Parkway, an area located just south of the billboards.
“I’m here to show the state’s support on this,” Benedetto told protestors.
Joshua Goldman, who is in charge of the development, watched the fired up protesting from his car according to King.
The developer has agreed to meet with King and others to discuss a compromise.
“It’s not about hurting their business, it’s about coexisting together in the neighborhood,” said King. “He heard our message loud and clear,” King added.
The fate of the massive billboard will be discussed at a CB 10 public hearing on Tuesday, February 27.
The property was formerly occupied by a gas station. The new drive-in strip mall has one commercial tenant, a 7-Eleven convenience store.
The Bronx Times contacted Baychester Retail III LLC but did not receive a response by press deadline.