Plan envisions public walkway along Harlem River waterfront. The Department of City Planning’s sweeping rezoning proposal for a 30-block area of the South Bronx, bordering the Harlem River, obtained City Council approval on June 30, 2009. The plan impacts the underused and primarily industrial-zoned area along the Harlem River, bounded by East 149th Street on the north, Morris and Lincoln Avenues to the east, and the Major Deegan Expressway and Park Avenue to the south. Abandoned or converted to other land uses, City Planning found that the area suffered from a 22 percent vacancy rate with over 40 percent of the area occupied by storage, warehousing, and other light industrial uses.
The approved plan rezones the area’s inland blocks to mixed-use districts, permitting residential and commercial development as-of-right, as well as allowing the continuation of light industrial uses. The proposal allows grocery stores of any size as-of-right whereas food stores over 10,000 sq.ft. previously required a special permit. The Inclusionary Housing Program also became applicable to the area.
The plan’s centerpiece is a new 2.26-acre waterfront park between East 146th and East 144th Streets and the eventual creation of a waterfront public esplanade through the mapping of the new Special Harlem River Waterfront District. Along nine Harlem River waterfront parcels, the plan set detailed development controls impacting the use and size of the new development while also requiring public waterfront access, and construction of a shoreline public esplanade.
When the proposal reached the City Planning Commission, the owners of two parcels, facing the Harlem River waterfront, requested modifications to the waterfront development rules. The Commission granted slight design modifications to a development proposed on a waterfront parcel bordering East 149th Street. The owner of a second parcel, roughly located at the center of the rezoning area called Parcel 5, also received a modification. Under its modification, the parcel owner, Con Edison, could develop a 10,000-sq.ft. building for employee storage and locker space without triggering the full development requirements for the esplanade.
When the rezoning reached City Council for a hearing, Harry Bubbins, a representative of the Friends of Brook Park, asked the Council to add an existing green space along Park Avenue to the plan’s permanently mapped City parkland. Bubbins emphasized that the modifications granted to Con Edison would impact the City’s plan for a uniform public esplanade, and added that Con Edison received the modification as a result of a letter to the Commission’s Chair, and did not make a public request at either the Commission or the City Council.
Following Bubbins’ comments, Council Member Maria del Carmen Arroyo, whose district includes Lower Concourse, asked that the Council postpone the vote so that the issue of public access to the Park Avenue green space could be further discussed.
When the Council’s Zoning & Franchises Subcommittee reconvened on June 30, Arroyo said the rezoning’s “big picture” is to provide waterfront access that the community does not currently have, and that it will not happen unless this rezoning occurs. In the “spirit of the big picture” Arroyo said she supported the proposal without change. The Subcommittee approved the plan without modifications, and the Land Use Committee and full Council followed suit.
Lead Agency: CPC, FEIS
Comm.Bd.: BX 1,App’d, 26-0-0
CPC: App’d, 9-0-0
Council: App’d, 50-0-2
Council: Lower Concourse Rezoning (June 30, 2009).