Contextual rezoning of 80 Bronx blocks considered

Webster Ave/Bedford Park/Norwood proposed rezoning. Image: Courtesy of NYC Department of City Planning.

Contextual rezoning would permit residential development along Webster Avenue and apply lower-density districts in Bedford Park and Norwood. On January 5, 2011, the City Planning Commission held a public hearing on the Department of City Planning’s Webster Avenue/Bedford Park/Norwood Rezoning plan in the Bronx. The 80-block proposal includes a thirteen-block section of the north/south Webster Avenue commercial corridor between 193rd and 211th Streets and the nearby residential side streets making up the Bedford Park and Norwood neighborhoods. The rezoning area is primarily within Bronx Community Board 7, which requested the plan, with only a small section of Webster Avenue above 211th Street within CB 12’s boundaries.

Webster Avenue’s C8-2 commercial zoning prohibits residential development and was applied when the IRT Third Avenue elevated train line ran above the block making heavier commercial uses more acceptable along the corridor. The Third Avenue El was demolished in 1973, but the zoning remained unchanged. This wide avenue is now characterized by auto repair shops, low-scale office uses, parking lots, vacant lots, and minimal pedestrian traffic. The rezoning would replace the majority of the C8-2 zoning with R7D, R7B, and C4-5D districts, and new commercial overlays to encourage higher density mixed-use development. Planning would apply the Inclusionary Housing Program to the new R7D and C4-5D districts.

The neighborhoods of Bedford Park and Norwood, separated by Mosholu Parkway, are characterized by a mixture of housing types, including one- and two-family detached homes, attached and semi-detached homes, and five- to seven-story apartment buildings. The area’s existing R7-1 zoning, unchanged since 1961, allows building heights to reach fourteen stories. Planning would apply contextual zoning districts  including R7B, R6B, R5B, and R5A to these neighborhoods in order to preserve the existing built character and to ensure new development matches the existing scale.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. supported the proposal, but expressed concern about future Bronx rezonings. Diaz said there was a need for additional middle-income and market rate housing opportunities in the Bronx. He suggested that the City allow the Inclusionary Housing Program’s bonuses to be used in situations where low- and middle-income or market rate housing is provided in order to create more diverse and stable neighborhoods. Diaz also noted that Webster Avenue had become notorious for illegal drag racing that had resulted in several deaths. He pointed out that the rezoning would increase residential units along the corridor and requested that the City add a planted median along the block as a “traffic calming” measure to reduce a “grave risk” to pedestrians.

At the Commission’s hearing, Carrie Laney, speaking on behalf of the Four Bronx Institutional Alliance which represents Fordham University, Montefiore Medical Center, the Bronx Zoo, and the Bronx Botanical Garden, stated that the plan would be a major step forward in revitalizing the community. A representative from the borough president’s office reiterated Diaz’s concerns. No one spoke in opposition.

The Commission has until March 7, 2011 to vote on the plan.

CPC: Hearing on Webster Avenue Corridor/ Bedford Park/Norwood Rezoning (C 110085 ZMX – rezoning); (N 110086 ZRX – text amend.) (Jan. 5, 2011).

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