Ahead of Key Votes, Little Support in Throggs Neck for New Apartments and Supermarket
Councilmember Marjorie Velazquez is against the Bruckner Boulevard upzoning, for now. That could prevent the land use proposal near a Super Foodtown from moving forward.
Walking along Edison Avenue in Throggs Neck, you’ll see the same sign with the same word — “upzoning” — with a red “X” through it, hanging in the windows of house after house.
It’s a signal to onlookers that some residents there are opposed to a recent proposal to upzone — meaning to change rules to allow for denser future development — a portion of nearby Bruckner Boulevard. Developers want to remodel a supermarket there and create almost 400 new apartments.
Christina Reda, a 30-year-old local resident, said she thinks it’s “ridiculous” that the applicants for the development are trying to put more housing in the area.
“We’re a residential neighborhood that doesn’t need skyscrapers or anything like that. We enjoy our part of The Bronx that doesn’t involve huge buildings,” she said. “We simply do not need it.”
The four buildings, if constructed, would add 339 apartments to the area, with 94 being income restricted.
The proposal, put forth in July of 2021 by the owner of a local Super Foodtown and landlords surrounding the grocery store, has faced an uphill battle from its inception. Several community meetings regarding the application for rezoning have gotten contentious.
As the Throggs Neck proposal heads toward the first in a series of key up-or-down votes set to begin later this month, a major stakeholder has sided with Reda and the opposition. The neighborhood’s City Council member, Marjorie Velazquez, opposes the plan as it exists now.
Velazquez says she’s against it for the same reasons as her constituents.
“I think the community has made their opinion clear, and based on their continued protest, obviously the developer hasn’t addressed issues they’ve had,” she said in a statement to THE CITY.
The lots that the developers, Throggs Neck Associates LLC, want to upzone are currently designated as R-3 and R-4 residential zones with a C1-2 zone commercial district.
That allows for the construction of semi-detached one- and two-family houses, as well as detached homes, three-story residences, and smaller commercial or apartment buildings with retail on the first floor.
It’s a mix typically found in lower density neighborhoods across the city, especially in Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx.
The developers want to change the area to an R6A zone, or medium-density residential buildings, with C2-4 zoned commercial buildings, in order to accommodate both the existing Super Foodtown as well as new storefronts and apartment buildings along Bruckner Boulevard.
To Reda and many who have fought the development plan, it would mean adding more people to a burdened neighborhood.
“Our neighborhood is already overcrowded, our schools are overcrowded and our hospitals. Our infrastructure is already screwed up and we get tons of flooding,” she said.
Throggs Neck is in a flood zone, and when Hurricane Ida hit the city last year, it was just the latest storm to cause major flooding there, especially affecting power to homes in the neighborhood.
The public school across the street from this proposed development, P.S. 14, had 569 students enrolled as of the 2019-20 school year according to data provided by the New York City Department of Education. In 2016, it was at 159% capacity, according to reporting by the Bronx Times. As a result, the school building was expanded to double its previous size.
The closest hospital to Throggs Neck, the Westchester Square Medical Center, is an eight-minute drive from the proposed site for upzoning. Hospitalization rates had gone up after a new, more contagious variant of Covid-19 was found in the city in January of this year.
Another resident, George Havrenek, made a petition against the proposal to upzone the district.
“Our community is neither up for BID or sale…development is good when PROPER THINGS ARE IN PROPER PLACES,” said Havrenek. (Havrenek did not respond to THE CITY for further comment.)
Michelle de la Uz, former member of the City Planning Commission and executive director of Fifth Avenue Committee in Brooklyn, a community organization focused on affordable housing and housing justice, noted that concerns over transit, sewage, and overcrowding are nothing new to upzoning fights in the city.
While it all depends on each case, de la Uz said, the makeup of Throggs Neck — one of the least developed and least affordable areas of the city — adding 384 housing units would not make much of a dent.
“Every neighborhood needs to do their fair share [of affordable housing]. And a moderate increase of 384 units in Throggs Neck, population of about 20,000 people — I mean, we’re talking about a [small] increase in population. We’re not talking dramatic here,” said de la Uz.
Peter Bivona, one of the co-applicants for the rezoning proposal and brother of the owner of Super Foodtown, agrees. He said he hears the concerns of the community, but is ultimately focused on creating more affordable housing in such a downzoned — or low density — neighborhood.
“How would you want to be treated if you needed a place to live that you could afford, and this neighborhood wasn’t able to … 384 units is nothing. It’s really nothing,” Bivona told THE CITY.
He added that he felt too few affordable units have been built in the area, making a proposal like theirs necessary.
“I follow a lot of trade papers, real estate. And every community board has those bullet points. The sanitation, the police, the transportation, the hospitals,” he said.
The neighborhood has had 58 affordable apartments constructed between 2014 and 2021, according to the New York Housing Conference housing tracker. That’s 1,169 units less than the citywide average for the same time period.
As of now, Bivona and the other co-applicants for the rezoning proposal have one “yes” vote — from Bronx Borough President Vanessa Gibson. But without the backing of Councilmember Velazquez and the rest of the City Council, her approval won’t be enough to push the application through.
The Bronx BP said in a statement that she feels the need for affordable housing outweighs the protests against upzoning.
“I believe this project can be a model for what a comprehensive neighborhood could look like. A neighborhood that has traditionally been lower density, but can strategically add density when infrastructure improvements are made to accommodate it,” said Gibson in her recommendation in June to approve the zoning application.
Gibson’s recommendation is advisory only, and will not legally affect the approval or disapproval of the project. Likewise, the Throggs Neck community board’s rejection in May of the plan is also advisory.
Next up, the City Planning Commission will weigh in on the proposal. The Department of City Planning said the CPC plans on taking a vote on the zoning application by the end of August.
Then, it is up to the City Council to decide whether to approve or deny the application.
With Velazquez not on board, it is unlikely that the rest of the Council would vote against her opinion. Historically, city lawmakers abide by the tradition of member deference, in which the body most often votes in accord with the councilmember representing the district where a project is being proposed, as with a zoning application.
But councilmembers defied the member deference tradition just last year, when they voted against Ben Kallos (D-Manhattan) in his bid to block an application for upzoning of a proposed blood center on the Upper East Side.
That was the first time member deference was defied in over a decade, the last time being in 2009, according to the Gotham Gazette.
As of now, given community pushback and Velazquez’s current opposition to the project, Throggs Neck Associates LLC likely will not be able to proceed with their planned development without changing some aspects of the proposal, like reducing the total number of units and designing buildings that are not significantly taller than many of the buildings in the area.
De la Uz said that when it comes to an upzoning project’s success, leaders must listen to community desires and address fears of overcrowding or competition for resources — while underscoring the acute need for housing in the city.
“A lot of it is helping people understand: We’ve been in an affordable housing crisis for over 70 years. That’s why we’ve had rent control,” she said. “How would you want to be treated if you needed a place to live that you could afford?”