School, housing proposed for Kingsbridge church site

pablo school site-1
A proposed school would be built on an old parking lot, which is currently fenced off.
Photo | Pablo D. Castillo Jr.

A former Kingsbridge church site may have a future as a school and affordable housing development.

The New York City School Construction Authority (SCA) presented a proposed school site to the Community Board 8 Land Use Committee on Dec. 7 for the former Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary parking lot, on John Collins Place between 239th Street and Van Cortlandt Park South. The school would seat 646 students.

“We’re working with the developer, who owns the full lot, including the former church site, but our project on the John Collins portion would be a standalone building and be independent of their development plans,” Nicole Holloway, SCA Bronx community relations manager told CB8.

But the private developer — TS Communities, Tishman Speyer’s affordable housing branch, which announced its first project, Edgemere Commons last month — has not purchased the site, which is still owned by the Archdiocese, a spokesman for the international development company confirmed with the Bronx Times.

“TS Communities and the New York City School Construction Authority are, in cooperation, pursuing a possible redevelopment of the former Visitation Parish Church site that would bring much-needed school seats and quality affordable housing to the Kingsbridge neighborhood,” the spokesman said in a statement.

The developer is considering building 340 units, state Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat, told the Bronx Times. While there is a need for housing, Dinowitz called it excessive to have that many units concentrated on a single site, which consists of the parking lot, former church and former school.

Dinowitz said he has been advocating for a school to be built on this site for several years. “It’s literally at the crossroads of four different school zones in our district, all of which are overcrowded,” he said.

The legislator surmised the housing development would likely help fund the school construction.

CB8 member Rosemary Ginty said the combined school and housing uses pose important land-use issues, given traffic around the site.

“I think that’s a pretty hefty school,” said Ginty, who also sits on CB8’s Land Use Committee. “Which is good news, but something that has to be looked at, especially in conjunction with a new housing development, which we know nothing about.”

In response, Zeeshan Ott, SCA director of External Affairs emphasized that the school plan is separate from the developer’s adjacent housing plans for the same property.

But Ginty wasn’t convinced, calling it impossible for one developer to plan neighboring sites independently. “I was not born yesterday,” she said.

Gayle Mandero, senior director for SCA’s real estate division, said SCA will coordinate with the neighboring project as they would with any residential neighbor.

“Do I know their design? No, I do not.” Mandero said. “Are we going to coordinate so we are safe and code-compliant, and fire department compliant and everything else? Absolutely.”

School District 10 has a seat need of 2,925, the highest in the Bronx. According to Holloway, 2,060 of those seats are in the Kingsbridge-Norwood-Bedford Park subdistrict. The need is calculated by SCA to project when and where additional seats will be needed by assessing school capacity and future enrollment projections, including increased demand resulting from projected new housing.

Ginty said the board hasn’t received a proposal for a new school in the 14 years she has been a member. Sylvia Alexander, CB8’s Education Committee chairwoman, said the board was promised a new school with 456 seats a decade ago but no one could find a location.

The SCA doesn’t know which students would attend the school, as district lines would be determined by the city Department of Education after construction is complete, Ott said.

SCA would need to evaluate traffic, parking and other variables through the state environmental quality review, which Mandero said takes 4-6 months and hasn’t begun yet. She predicted the review would conclude in spring or early summer 2022.

Comments on the site proposal can be submitted to sites@nycsca.org and will be accepted until Jan. 3, 2022.

Reach Aliya Schneider at aschneider@schnepsmedia.com or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.

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