Wilhelm Ronda on the Bronx Borough President’s Office

Wilhelm Ronda

Wilhelm Ronda applies a “small-town” approach to his duties as the Director of Planning for Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. Whether it’s identifying parcels of land for new schools, or taking steps to protect the architectural integrity of a neighborhood building, Ronda understands that these issues can profoundly affect the borough’s residents. For this reason, Ronda encourages his staff to treat each issue with the same “tender love and care” that a small town’s officials would exercise. He says that it is important to address residents’ concerns by “taking charge with executive authority and not letting bureaucratic red tape get in the way.”

Ronda, a resident of the Kingsbridge neighborhood in the Bronx, has worked at the borough president’s office for twenty years. He began his career in City government at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Seven years later, he became district manager of Bronx Community Board 2, where he gained experience in open space development, environmental justice, and other local land use issues. After serving as CB2’s district manager for two years, Ronda received an unexpected invitation to join then-Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer’s staff.

New leadership. In April 2009, Diaz was elected Bronx Borough President after Adolfo Carrion Jr. was appointed as Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs. Ronda had previously worked with Diaz on housing issues, and has found the change in leadership to be “an extremely smooth and pleasant transition.” Ronda describes Diaz’s approach to land use policy as one focusing on how to ensure that future projects are economically beneficial and environmentally sustainable to the borough’s residents.

Land Use and development. Ronda recalls that at one point, developers in the Bronx were almost exclusively developing subsidized housing targeting low-income residents. Over the last eight years, that trend has slowed. From 2002 to 2008, an average of 36 percent of all housing in development was unsubsidized. Ronda considers the increase in unsubsidized, market-rate housing to be the borough’s biggest change in land use development and thinks it is a great achievement for a borough that had once “fallen to its knees” from an economic standpoint. Ronda believes that rather than displacing current residents, the increased residential construction has given them an opportunity to stay in the borough.

When it comes to rezoning, Ronda explains that no neighborhood should feel as if “one size fits all,” preferring to look at neighborhoods contextually in order to identify their needs while preserving their essential character. Specifically, he views mixed-use zones as important tools to help the borough redevelop underutilized industrial areas without harming existing activity.

Ongoing projects. To illustrate the utility of mixed-use zones, Ronda points to the current efforts to revitalize the Grand Concourse. In the nineteenth century, railroad connections and an active port led to a thriving lower end of the Grand Concourse. However, shifts in the local economy have resulted in an area that is currently underused and mostly vacant. On June 30, 2009, the City Council adopted the Lower Concourse rezoning: a plan to rezone 30 blocks surrounding the lower end of the Grand Concourse to create a mixed-use community with housing, waterfront open space, and retail business. Ronda notes that during the rezoning’s public review process, his staff paid particular attention to protecting as much of the area’s existing industrial activity as possible.

Looking back on the construction of the new Yankee Stadium, Ronda acknowledges that it was a “bumpy road,” and notes that the work is not yet over. The City is obligated to replace the 22 acres of Macombs Dam Park and John Mullaly Park that it eliminated to construct the new ballpark. Ronda is monitoring the situation closely to ensure that the City fulfills its commitment to build new parkland in the area. Heritage Field, which will sit on the footprint of the old stadium, is scheduled to open in 2011, and Mill Pond Park, a new ten-acre waterfront park built on the grounds of the former Bronx Terminal Market, recently opened to the public.

Taking a stand. On September 4, 2009, Diaz issued a negative recommendation for Related Companies’ application to redevelop the vacant Kingsbridge Armory into a shopping center. Diaz cited the fact that the developer had not agreed to the terms of a community benefits agreement. In addition to “living wage” and local hiring provisions, the agreement sought to exclude a supermarket or big-box warehouse store from the development in order to protect existing businesses.

Although the City Planning Commission recently approved the project, Ronda says that Diaz is encouraged that four of its members voted against it. Although his official role in the project’s review is over, Diaz now plans to meet with members of the City Council to articulate his concerns. Ronda acknowledges that the Borough President’s decision may have upset some people, but believes that “it took courage” for Diaz to oppose the project. Ronda says Diaz made the decision because the Bronx and its residents should not just play host to a new shopping center, but also share in the benefits.    — Matthew Windman

One thought on “Wilhelm Ronda on the Bronx Borough President’s Office

  1. Hello,
    1952 Benedict Ave/Parkchester
    Could someone please tell how and why this oversized, out of context building was approved to be built?
    An 8 story building on this site is totally inappropriate in this single-family residential neighborhood not to mention the added traffic and parking problems it will cause
    I believe it is to be a private/charter school.


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