Variance Approved For Metropolitan College’s Bronx Campus

Draft rendering of Metropolitan College of New York's Bronx campus building, viewed from Brook Avenue.  Image credit: Metropolitan College of New York

Draft rendering of Metropolitan College of New York’s Bronx campus building, viewed from Brook Avenue. Image credit: Metropolitan College of New York

College sited educational facilities in an M1-1 zone.  On June 24, 2014, the Board of Standards and Appeals granted a use variance to Metropolitan College of New York, a non-profit educational institution headquartered at 431 Canal Street in Manhattan, to use the entire second floor of a new building at 459 East 149th Street at the corner of Brook Avenue in the Bronx for educational purposes.  The site is in the shape of a triangle, bounded by East 149th Street on the west, by Brook Avenue on the east, and by an MTA right-of-way on the north where the 2 and 5 subway lines run aboveground.

Metropolitan College intends to expand their Extension Center in the Bronx into a full-scale branch campus.  Plans include classroom space for up to 410 students, as well as assembly space for up to 590 students, with a total maximum occupancy of 927 persons.  The College also intends to use the building to provide a media lab, a computer lab, job and internship fairs, guest speakers, and conferences.  Metropolitan College President Vinton Thompson stated at the building’s groundbreaking that “[t]his is a long-term commitment to provide enhanced educational opportunities for residents of the Bronx and adjacent parts of the city and suburbs.”

The College needed a variance to use the M1-1 zoned section of the second floor for classroom and other educational purposes.  Approximately twelve percent of the building lies in an M1-1 zone, which is limited to light industry, manufacturing, offices, and most retail purposes, while the remaining eighty-eight percent lays in a C4-4 zone for commercial and office space.  A majority of the first story of the building and a portion of the second story will be occupied by a supermarket, a restaurant, retail space, and offices.  The College would occupy the remainder of the first story with administrative offices, and occupy the second story with classroom space and assembly space.

The Department of Buildings denied Metropolitan College’s application for a building permit on November 14, 2013, ruling that the portion of the site zoned M1-1 was limited to light manufacturing or industrial purposes, retail, and office space.  Metropolitan College applied to BSA for a variance to permit its use of the M1-1 zoned area of the second floor as a college.

BSA public hearings were held on April 1st, May 6th, May 20th, June 10th, and June 24, 2014.  Metropolitan College stated that, with an occupancy of more than five hundred people present, it would be required to provide three separate egresses, each with a maximum travel distance of two hundred and fifty feet.  To construct the requisite egresses, the College needed to extend the structure into the M1-1 zone.  Without the requisite egresses, the building would be restricted to a capacity of less than five hundred people, reducing the number of students the College could serve.

No community opposition was raised at the public hearings.  BSA commissioners, however, requested that Metropolitan College explore other possible internal configurations that would keep the College entirely within the C4-4 zone.  The College devised three possible scenarios, but all three decreased occupancy and presented accessibility issues.

During environmental review of Metropolitan College’s application, the Mayor’s Office of Environmental Coordination advised that a staff person should be permanently on site at the Brook Avenue driveways to guide delivery trucks into the loading bays located there and ensure safety for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists.  Further, the Mayor’s Office recommended that the building meet specific noise attenuation requirements.

On June 24, 2014, the BSA granted the variance on the condition that Metropolitan College adheres to the Mayor’s Office’s environmental review recommendations.

BSA:  459 East 149th Street, Bronx (310-13-BZ) (June 24, 2014) (Eric Palatnick, P.C, for Triangle Plaza Hub, LLC., owner; Metropolitan College of New York, applicant-lessee).

By:  Michael Twomey (Michael is a CityLaw Fellow and a New York Law School Graduate, Class of 2014).

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