Goodbye 2013, hello 2014.
Who knows what this coming year holds, but what we DO know is how the Bronx fared this past year, from major developments helping to reshape the borough, to important local neighborhood issues, and a welcome continuing drop in crime levels not seen in many decades.
A long dis-used armory will see new life as a mega-ice palace, FreshDiredt is trying to sprout a new home in the South Bronx, at least the historic murals will remain in the iconic General Post Office on the Concourse, and talks (and opposition) are underway to see a new soccer stadium for the borough.
So, let’s get to it:
The city made it official in 2013: the long-dormant armory will become the world’s largest ice rink complex. In April, Mayor Bloomberg, Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and other local officials announced that they had endorsed the Kingsbridge National Ice Center (KNIC) over a competing proposal that called for an artisanal marketplace.
KNIC’s plan calls for nine regulation-size ice hockey rinks and a 5,000-seat arena inside the 750,000 square foot cavernous castle.
KNIC Partners, a development group led by former Wall Street executive Kevin Parker, signed a community benefits agreement in which it promised to pay its workers a “living wage” —$10 with benefits, or $11.50/hour without benefits — as well as give the community 50,000 feet of space and fund local skating lessons. KNIC brought in former New York Rangers star Mark Messier as its CEO.
After its mayoral endorsement, the project still had to endure an arduous public review process leading up to a pivotal City Council vote in December. Local Councilman Fernando Cabrera hedged on whether he supported the project, while local businesses around the armory braced themselves as their landlords scrambled to sign shorter leases, expecting later to raise rent.
In November, Cabrera came under scrutiny after the developer accused him of trying to shake them down, exchanging support for funneling $100,000 every year for 99 years into a dormant nonprofit he is linked to. Cabrera’s spokesman denied the allegations.
In the final moments, Cabrera got on board with the project, after the developers made last-minute concessions to combat parking and traffic concerns. The vote skated to an easy 48-1 win in the City Council.
The online grocer delivery service’s fight to relocate from Queens to the Port Morris waterfront raged on this year.
South Bronx Unite, the coalition opposing the move because of environmental and traffic concerns, took its fight to court, alleging that the company must do an updated environmental impact study before construction begins. The group also charged that FreshDirect should not be allowed to lease Harlem River Yards land that originally was owned by the state and designated for use as a railway.
A judge at Bronx Supreme Court dismissed the case in June, but lawyers for South Bronx Unite are now appealing that decision.
In December, local Congressman Jose Serrano took a shot at FreshDirect by using his influence to delay a vote that would have given the company a $3 million loan and $500,000 cash grant toward construction.
Meanwhile, the Borough President and outgoing Mayor Bloomberg continue to tout the project as bringing jobs to a borough plagued with unemployment, with incoming Mayor Bill de Blasio’s stance on the relocation still up in the air.
‘Rusty’s’ troubled stables
Pelham Parkway’s once beloved horse stable’s fate —as well as the fate of the cherished horse “Rusty,” or “Bronco,” who lives there — remains unclear as a troubled year for the site comes to an end.
In spring 2013, a Bronx Supreme Court judge ordered the stable’s owners, Buster Marango and M.O.L Realty, to put the property up for auction after the owners fell over $20,000 behind in tax payments. That auction was held in November at the Bronx County Courthouse, but the new owner was temporarily stopped after Marengo got a judge to put the sale on hold. The property was a thriving horse academy in the 1980’s, dubbed Cy’s Pelham Parkway Riding Academy. But in recent years the site fell into disarray.
A group of neighbors tried to restore the stable, tending to the site on weekends in May and hoping to work with Marengo to turn the area into a farmer’s market with pony rides.
But Marengo has refused to work with them, and refused repeated requests for an interview with the Bronx Times Reporter.
On the Bronx political front, some new faces were elected to office, incumbents beat back challenges, while one elected and the head of the Bronx Republican Party found themselves in criminally hot water, while another headed off to jail.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. was handily reelected, while Richie Torres, Andrew Cohen and former Assemblywoman Vanessa Gibson were elected to fill the seats of term-limited City Council members.
Victor Pichardo, a former staffer for state Senator Gustavo Rivera, won by a razor-thin margin in a race to fill the west Bronx seat of disgraced ex-Assemblyman Nelson Castro.
Morrisania Assemblyman Eric Stevenson wound up under federal indictment charged with bribe taking, while Bronx Republican Party Boss Jay Savino pleaded guilty to federal bribe receiving charges in a scheme to put Queens state Senator Malcolm Smith on the Republican ballot line for mayor, and ex-City Councilman Larry Seabrook was sentenced to five years in federal prison for stealing money from non-profits.
Still to be determined by City Council vote Jan. 8 is whether South Bronx/East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito will hold on to her eight-vote margin to be voted in as next Council Speaker. Bronx Democratic Party Boss Carl Heastie, who has his money on Manhattan Councilman Dan Garodnick, could be THE big loser for the borough’s council delegation in committee chairmanships and other jobs if Melissa wins.
Neighborhoods borough-wide applied to the city for so-called Slow Zones, which reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph. Norwood, Parkchester and Westchester Square netted the slow zones, while five different applications in Pelham Gardens were rejected.
Residents, labor groups and elected officials rallied in 2013 to keep Bronx’s iconic General Post Office on Grand Concourse and E. 149th Street from shuttering.
In a joint letter written April 1 to the vice president of facilities for the Postal Service, a coalition of nine City Council members, ten New York State Assembly persons, six state senators and four members of Congress blasted postal brass for fast tracking the sale of the office on the Grand Concourse in Melrose.
The United States Postal Service, claiming that the majority of the building goes unused on a day-by-day basis, wants to cut costs by relocating to elsewhere nearby.
Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and the local Community Board both oppose the sale, which remains under an appeal process. But post office fans got one win late in December, when the city’s Landmarks Commission designated the 13 historic murals inside the lobby as “interior landmarks,” meaning that any new developer would have to keep them intact.
Reports leaked in early December that the New York Football Club —a consortium owned mostly by an Abu Dhabi Sheik and partly by the New York Yankees —had a proposal on the table to build a Major League Soccer (MLS) Stadium between E. 153rd Street and the Major Deegan Expressway.
This summer, the Borough President penned a letter to MLS urging the team to consider the Bronx, which is full of soccer fans. The league had reportedly backed out of a plan to move to Queens after staunch community opposition.
Some locals are gearing up for another fight after the bruising battle that took place in the months before the new Yankee Stadium was built in 2009. They want a better deal this time around, and may find an ally in Mayor-elect Bill be Blasio, who said recently that he had “serious concerns” with the project.
The city’s $36 million plan to improve Pelham Parkway entered its second phase this year, though local activists and Community Board 11 spent the first half of 2013 fighting against an alleged dangerous sidewalk on Pelham Parkway South.
They filed a lawsuit to remove the sidewalk, but that lawsuit was dismissed in April after a judge said that it was filed after deadline. Locals vowed to continue to fight for the concrete’s removal.
On the bright side, in May, work crews for the city Department of Design and Construction began planting 200 new trees along the main eastbound road of Pelham Parkway South,
And in September, as a result of Members of the Pelham Parkway Preservation Alliance rallying to protect trees, the DDC announced that it had come up with a way to preserve trees on Pelham Parkway North, which would have been destroyed by preliminary plans to build a sidewalk over them.
Westchester Square Medical Center
The New Year was greeted with concerns about the closure of Westchester Square Medical Center, and the purchase of its assets of by Montefiore Medical Center, which turned the facility into a freestanding Emergency Department and outpatient “ambulatory” care center.
The news of the sale came in Dec. 2012, but by January many of the anxious staffers at WSMC, some of whom had been working there decades, were concerned about getting (or not getting) new jobs at Montefiore. They were also concerned about news jobs that could be far away from where WSMC was located. Some did get jobs, some did not.
Meanwhile, some with medical knowledge in the community expressed concerns about the freestanding Emergency Department concept being untested before in New York State.
Others questioned the wisdom of closing a full-service hospital when the nearest hospital a little over a mile away, Weiler Hospital at Albert Einstein College, also a Montefiore facility, reportedly has patients with “hallway assignments.” New York State Nurses Association officials say this means that overcrowding has forced inpatient beds into hallways because of lack of rooms for privacy, which can be important when certain medical procedures are performed.
With the new Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate now in effect, Montefiore appears to be consolidating many of the Bronx’s and Westchester’s medical options into one large non-profit entity, employing about 18,000 people but also exerting serious pressures on the market for health care now not only in the Bronx, but throughout the region.
CITY ISLAND BRIDGE
The legal battle the erupted recently over the City Island Bridge, 15 years in the making, is likely to be settled this year with the islanders finally getting a public hearing through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure process. The ULURP will deal with ancillary matters related to the reconstruction of a new bridge to replace the over century-old current bridge.
Many islanders object to the modernist cable-stayed design that will see a tower over 150 feet tall on the new bridge. Resolution of legal action this fall seems to indicate that the matter will be taking place through the ULURP.
Many of the islanders wanting a smaller bridge may have their best hope in a change of heart on the design from the de Blasio administration.
It is sort of like a soccer ball being kicked around, bouncing from idea to idea: what to do with the former hospital building at 1870 Pelham Parkway South in Pelham Bay?
Two different planned assisted living plans for the building have fallen through, most recently a scuttled plan called the “Pelham Grand.”
As the building sits vacant, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and veterans advocates have been looking into the possibility of some sort of facility assisting veterans at the location.
ASSISTED LIVING BRAWL ON City Island
The City Island Civic Association has been fighting a proposed assisted living facility for the corner of Schofield Street and City Island Avenue, sending both their attorney and association members to the Board of Standards and Appeals to plead their case.
The group pushing for the facility, the Italian Hospital Society, is not based in the Bronx. Many islanders are concerned because the group is seeking a zoning variance to build a larger building than the zoning normally allows, with much greater density than that of a typical building on the island. Once the variance is granted, it can be used for other projects if the assisted living plan falls through.
The BSA twice requested that the IHS go back to the drawing board. Documents filed before the BSA show that the soil at the location likely needs environmental remediation. The proposed facility, which would not sit on the waterfront, is nevertheless in a flood zone, according to maps.
The BSA has granted the IHS a third try in redesigning the plans for the facility, and those plans are due in January if there is not a postponement. The IHS proposed a similar facility, the Italian Home for the Aged, in Westchester County, but it never happened.