Mott Haven pastor protests HPD’s housing developer

Mott Haven pastor protests HPD’s housing developer
Artist’s rendering of Park Haven.
Courtesy of HPD

Pastor David Serrano has been trying to build affordable housing on St. Ann’s Avenue in Mott Haven since the late 1980s.

Even though a different developer has been chosen by NYC Housing, Preservation and Development to build on the property, Serrano hasn’t given up yet.

He’s organized a protest this Saturday in front of the property at 11 a.m.

Evangelist Pastor Serrano’s Thessalonica Church has occupied the corner of 313 St. Ann’s Avenue for 78 years, next to a dirt parking lot that he hoped the church would one day develop.

The church leases the lot from the city so that the community has off streeet parking.

Serrano received support from state and city elected officials throughout the years as he tried to acquire the property.

Serrano is convinced that HPD, which has jurisdiction over the site, has been using stall tactics to discourage the developers he reached out to from submitting a plan.

However HPD’s director of Bronx Planning, Ted Weinstien has a different account.

“They have not progressed. There were developer problems. We had been waiting for plans from them for months and even years,” said Weinstien. “We were willing to wait but they never came through,” he added.

HPD has now gone ahead and selected its own developer, The Community Builders, a Massachusetts-based non-profit developer.

Their plan, titled ‘Park Haven,’ would build 170 affordable housing units, 60 of which would be permanently set aside for the homeless, include a FRESH supermarket, and space for the non-profit BronxWorks to operate.

In critizing the HPD proposal, Serrano pointed out, “There’s five supermarkets in the area, there’s no need for another.”

In fact Pastor Serrano asserts his plan for the property was very similar.

The church’s proposal had close to the same number of housing units with a focus on housing for seniors and veterans.

The complex would also have included a senior center as well as religious education facilities, the pastor claims.

Fifteen proposals had been submitted to HPD in 2015, including one from the Thessalonica Church.

Serrano found it suspicious that an out-of-state developer was chosen. He claims TCB was the only non-New York proposal submitted.

Weinstien couldn’t recall if other submissions were from out-of-state developers, but stressed that TCB has a New York office.

Community Board 1 voted against the Park Haven proposal 15 to 5 in December.

In January, Borough President Ruben Diaz’s report on the project favored the proposal on conditions that the church, community board, and Park Haven’s developer, work out their concerns.

“We hope to have a working dialogue with the church,” said Desiree Andrepont, senior project manager for TCB. “We will continue to reach out to them,” she added.

Serrano expressed a hesitation to collaborate with TCB because Andrepont was previously employed by HPD.

Weinstien said it would be “an insult” to connect her previous employment as a factor in HPD’s selection of TCB.

Both TCB and HPD have expressed willingness to work with the church, however Serrano has remained distant in recent months.

The protest would be Serrano’s most public opposition to the plan. He expects about 500 people to rally for the church’s cause.

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