Bruckner Rezoning Rolls On After Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez Reverses Herself
If Velázquez had maintained her opposition and the committee had nonetheless voted the rezoning through, it could have been the death blow for the Council’s tradition of ‘member deference’
A new affordable housing development is likely to be built in Throggs Neck after the local City Councilmember and a union that had been opposed reversed themselves just ahead of a key committee vote on Thursday.
The City Council Land Use Committee in a 10-0 vote approved the plan to upzone a strip of Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx neighborhood, setting up a full Council vote next week that’s expected to easily pass.
The move— which shifts local zoning codes to allow for taller and denser buildings — would clear the way for a 349-unit housing development, with the majority of those set aside for low-income and middle-income renters and senior citizens.
After opposing the measure for months, saying that it lacked local support and didn’t do enough to prioritize local hires, local Councilmember Marjorie Velázquez reversed herself ahead of the critical land use committee vote on Thursday. The flip averted what could have been an embarrassing defeat for her and for the increasingly controversial Council tradition of “member deference,” in which the local member has what amounts to veto power over any proposal within their district.
“We need to build a better NYC. That does not mean that we hand our keys to developers. That does not mean that we remove the art of negotiation from our Council members. And I want to thank every single Council member that has supported me through this process. I see you and thank you. Member deference is not dead and I love you for that,” Velázquez said, adding that her main priority is “building for my community locally and also giving them the opportunity to work there.”
The proposal falls within the borders of Community Board 10 in The Bronx, which voted to reject it in July in its advisory capacity.
While major construction unions like the Construction and General Building Laborers Local 79 had backed the project, the District Council of Carpenters initially opposed it, which Velázquez cited as a failure to prioritize local hiring.
But the carpenters’ union, too, backed the project in the end, a shift that two community organizers involved in the plan said helped bring around Velázquez — who was also facing pressure from Mayor Eric Adams and Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, who both supported it.
“Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez courageously demanded that any development in her district must include local jobs that build up the middle class rather than tear it down — and she succeeded,” Joseph Geiger, executive secretary-treasurer of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, said on Thursday. “That kind of unyielding dedication to the middle class and her district is what we need more of in our elected officials if we are going to end the housing and affordability crises.”
On Thursday the Daily News reported that the “speaker’s team also worked behind the scenes to broker the deal between the carpenters union and the property owners,” citing Council sources.
The mayor seemed to anticipate and claim some credit for Velázquez’s shift when he appeared for the first time as mayor on NY1’s “Inside City Hall” Wednesday evening.
“As you know, the councilwoman, Velázquez, also went to Puerto Rico with us to look at some of the issues they were facing around the hurricane. We had an opportunity to talk, continue to speak with the councilwoman,” Adams said.
He framed the Throggs Neck development fight as as “a citywide issue of affordable housing,” saying, “I’m optimistic that we should be able to come to a conclusion with this project.”
A day later, his attitude was confirmed.
In a statement shortly after casting her vote, Velázquez said the upzoning “provides tangible benefits for the people of our community and transforms the unfortunate reality that this office before me had been unable to provide affordable housing for our residents, with less than 60 units produced in the last 8 years. We have far surpassed that in less than a year.”
She added: “I will never stop fighting for my local community and always remain committed to negotiating to the end to deliver for the people of my district.”
Other opponents of the plan, however, questioned her decision.
“We’ll deal with the hand we’re dealt with, but we were not supportive at all,” Bronx Community Board 10 Chairperson Joseph Russo said in an interview with the Bronx Times just after the vote. “I don’t know what community the councilwoman is speaking of, because the community was very adamant about their lack of support for this project — not only for the project, for the applicants. So I’m pleased that she is saying yes to a community, but I’m not sure what community that is she is saying yes to. But good for her.”
Christian Amato, a board member in neighboring Community Board 11 who recently lost a bid for state legislature in the 34th Senate District, which encompasses the Bruckner Boulevard strip, suggested Velázquez wasn’t able to get enough political support from her fellow lawmakers to maintain her opposition.
“I’m assuming that after the councilmember spoke to her colleagues and listened to her constituents and saw the actions of her constituents, she realized that the best thing to do for her community would be to bring more affordable housing,” said Amato, who began supporting the project after it was reduced in size. For example, one building’s height was reduced to five stories from eight stories.
Amato added that he was “uncertain that Councilmember Velázquez was able to whip enough support amongst her colleagues to come to a no vote.”