At a public hearing last Wednesday night in the Bronx, residents filed into the Concourse Village Community Center to oppose the proposed rezoning on Jerome Avenue. Throughout the night, residents approached the podium to make their case to Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson of the 16th District and members of Bronx community boards 4 and 5
If approved, the rezoning will transform a 92 block area which consists of Highbridge, Mount Eden, Morris Heights, and University Heights, but will bear the most immediate consequence on the Jerome Avenue corridor. The corridor sits below the elevated 4 subway line that runs from Brooklyn to the Bronx and is currently home to a number of auto industry workers, a majority of whom are immigrants and don’t own but rent their mechanic spaces.
One of the echoing concerns of residents throughout the night was that auto workers in Jerome Avenue would be displaced as a result of the changes. The Draft Environmental Impact Solution released by the Department of City Planning (DCP) has already addressed these fears by admitting that an estimated 77 businesses and 500 plus jobs associated with those businesses will be lost if the rezoning is approved. Despite this, DCP argues that the rezoning is beneficial for the long-term vision of the community, but Bronx residents at Wednesday’s public hearing were skeptical about whose vision the city had in mind.
“We believe it’s time all areas of the Bronx get the money and the development that it deserves,” said Fitzroy Christian a Bronx resident who has lived off Jerome Avenue for over 40 years. ”But we’re saying it has to be developed and done for the people who live here now. We’re not asking you to come in and tell us what your vision of us and our community and our future should be,” continued Christian.
Many residents expressed fears that the rezoning, which will result in an influx of over 3,000 residential units, will change the character of the neighborhood. The theme that endured throughout the night was that the Bronx would mimic other boroughs which, as a result of rezoning, saw a spike in rent prices and forced long-time residents to move out and look for other places to live.
“If you let this rezoning go through, you are going to be responsible for putting people out of their homes, and I will be one of them,” said Bronx resident, Michelle Genross to a round of applause and chants, signaling agreement from other residents in the room.
“I came here because I was displaced from Brooklyn,” said another Bronx resident, Kara Lynch as she spoke into the microphone.
The city’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing policy, which is the city’s deterrent to the displacement of residents states that a percentage of newly developed buildings in the rezoned area be allocated as affordable housing. But the policy came under fire with many residents questioning whether the program would be truly affordable
“We want housing at rents we can afford to pay.” said one resident during his testimony.
Despite the overwhelming number of residents who opposed the rezoning, there were a few who came out in favor of it. A business owner reasoned that the area was over-saturated with auto shops, showed support for the rezoning and asked if his neighborhood could be included in the study area. While a Bronx based developer in support of the rezoning lobbied for space to expand local charter schools and other amenities for students.
In her remarks, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibson expressed enthusiasm about the possibility of the rezoning but reaffirmed her commitment to protecting the interests of Bronx residents.
“This Jerome neighborhood plan is a unique opportunity for our community to receive much needed, long overdue, and well-deserved capital investments,” said Councilmember Gibson during her testimony.
“However, I will not let those investments come at the price of our vibrant neighborhood and our long-time residents,” she said.