Members of the City Council’s Bronx delegation, at a public hearing, said they opposed the project because the developer would not agree to a living wage provision for armory workers. On December 14, 2009, the City Council denied Related Companies’ redevelopment plan for the long-vacant Kingsbridge Armory in the northwest Bronx. Under the proposal, Related would have built a four-story structure within the armory providing 500,000 sq.ft. of commercial space, 27,000 sq.ft. of community facility space, 30,000 sq.ft. of open space, and a sub-level parking garage. To facilitate the $300 million project, the proposal included applications to dispose of the City-owned armory and to rezone the area from an R6 district to a C4-4 commercial use district.
At the City Planning Commission’s hearing, members of the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA), a coalition of nineteen Bronx community groups, and a representative of Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. expressed concerns about the project’s impact on the community. They requested that Related sign a community benefits agreement guaranteeing a living wage provision that would provide employees with a salary of at least $10 an hour with benefits, or $11.50 an hour without benefits. The owners of a nearby supermarket chain claimed that a potential new supermarket within the armory would hurt the local markets in the area.
The Commission approved the project by a vote of 8-4-1, noting that the community benefits agreement and living wage provision were beyond the Commission’s scope of review. 6 CityLand 154 (Nov. 15, 2009).
At the Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee hearing, opposition to the project remained. Bronx Borough President Diaz reiterated that he would not support the project as long as Related refused to sign a community benefits agreement guaranteeing a living wage. KARA supporters testified that without a living wage provision the jobs created by the project would not help working families escape poverty.
Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Robert Lieber said the project would create more than 1,200 permanent jobs and 1,000 construction jobs. He noted that past attempts to redevelop the armory had failed and expressed concern that if the City did not approve this plan, the armory would likely remain closed and unproductive. Related’s attorney, Jesse Masyr, testified that a living wage requirement would render the project “un-financeable, unleasable, and un-buildable.”
Council Member Joel Rivera noted that the project would receive roughly $60 million in City subsidies and questioned why providing a living wage would not be financially feasible. Council Member Annabel Palma, speaking on behalf of the Council’s Bronx delegation, said she wanted to see “real jobs with real living wages.” The vote was laid over to allow for further discussions between the Council, Related, and the Mayor’s office.
When the Subcommittee reconvened on December 14, 2009, Chair Tony Avella said the Mayor’s “administration had failed to reach an agreement with the Council” and recommended a motion to disapprove the project. Council Member Melinda R. Katz abstained, and only Council Member Helen Sears voted against the motion. At the Land Use Committee vote, Council Member Charles Barron said the vote was “a historic moment in the City Council,” and Avella congratulated the Council’s Bronx delegation for “standing up” and expressing the concerns of its community.
Before the full Council voted, Speaker Christine C. Quinn urged her colleagues to disapprove the plan, citing the project’s “negative traffic and public health impact” as two of the land use-related issues that remained unresolved. She said there were also “significant” unresolved issues that were “separate and apart from the charter’s land use process.” The Council rejected the proposal by a 45 – 1- 3 vote.
Council: Kingsbridge Armory (Dec. 14, 2009).