Council Approved East Fordham Road Rezoning

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East Fordham Road Rezoning Project Area. Image Credit:Pictometry International Corp.

Central Bronx area rezoned is adjacent to the Bronx Zoo, the Bronx Botanical Garden, and Fordham University. The Council approved the Bronx Planning office’s proposed zoning map amendments affecting a 12 block area in the Central Bronx. The new zoning established height limits, protects neighborhood character, and reinforces existing commercial character. A major goal of the rezoning is to stimulate revitalization of the area through private investment, the construction of affordable housing and to create an attractive gateway to important Bronx cultural institutions.

On September 30, 2013, the Bronx Borough Office of the Department of City Planning (DCP) testified before the City Council’s Land Use Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises in support of the proposal to rezone an area along East Fordham Road, a major east-west thoroughfare passing through the central Bronx.  The rezoning area is generally bounded by East 191st Street to the north, East 187th Street to the south, Southern Boulevard to the east, and Bathgate Avenue to the west.

The rezoning replaces C8-1, R6, R6/C2-3 and R6/C2-4 zoning districts with C4-5D, R6 and R6B zoning districts. The C4-5D zoning districts are designated by the Inclusionary Housing Program, which would incentivize permanently affordable housing. In exchange for 20% of the floor area being designated as affordable, developers would receive a 33 percent floor area bonus.

The R6B zoning district, mapped along East 191st Street, and protects neighborhood character and provides predictability for future development.  The proposed R6 zoning district would be located between Cambreleng Avenue and Crotona Avenue reflects the residential character of the area.  Commercial overlays are mapped along Arthur Avenue north of East 187th Street to reinforce the existing commercial character and create retail continuity along Arthur Avenue between the commercial core of Belmont and East Fordham Road, which is immediately south of the area.

During the Subcommittee public hearing, Paul Phillips, Project Manager at the Bronx Office, stated that East Fordham Road “provides the first impression that people get not only of the neighborhood and the borough but also of the region.” Carol Samol, Director of the Bronx Office at the Department of City Planning stated that East Fordham Road is “a small, but very prominent location in the Bronx, the front door to many institutions in the Central Bronx,” including the Bronx Zoo, New York Botanical Garden, and Fordham University.

Prior to this proposed action, Bronx Community Board 6, local institutions, local elected officials, residents, and property owners had raised concerns that the existing zoning did not reflect or support prevailing land use trends in the area.  Samol stated that local Council Members Jose Rivera and Oliver Koppell  walked the streets with the Bronx Office many years ago when the Planning office started to envision a project for this area.

The bulk of the proposed rezoning area is a C8-1 zoning district that is currently characterized by auto-related uses, including gas stations, car dealerships, and automobile repair shops.  According to Paul Philips, Project Manager of the Bronx Office, this prior zoning has been in place since 1961, with few changes. Phillips noted that the C8-1 zoning area has no street wall requirements, which “contributes to lack of eyes and ears on the street,” “lack of foot traffic in this area,” and “no interaction between pedestrians and buildings at the street level.”

East Fordham Road, west of the rezoning area, is lined with thriving commercial businesses, and is the commercial spine along Arthur Avenue south of the rezoned area known as the Little Italy of the Bronx. According to the City Planning Commission Report, the “lack of retail continuity [in the area to be rezoned] produces a vastly different pedestrian experience making it feel somewhat desolate.” Fordham University, the Bronx Zoo, the Bronx Botanical Garden and the Belmont neighborhood are all impacted by these conditions.

During the Subcommittee hearing, Council Member Diana Reyna questioned what initiatives the Planning Department would undertake to encourage small businesses to utilize the commercial spaces and help facilitate the growth of a local economy in the area. In response, Samol stated that the configuration of the lots in the commercial overlay will naturally lead to smaller businesses. Samol noted that the Belmont Business Improvement District is very active and “all the property owners are members.” She also noted that Fordham University is represented in the BID.

The City Planning Commission approved the application on September 11, 2013. The Land Use Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises voted 9-0 to approve the application, and the Land Use Committee voted 17-0 to approve the application.  On October 9, 2013, the full City Council voted unanimously to approve the East Fordham Road Rezoning.

City Council: East Fordham Road Rezoning (C 130273 ZMX – zoning map amendment); (N 130274 ZRX – zoning text amendment)(October 9, 2013).

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