In his ninth State of the Borough speech on Thursday, Ruben Diaz Jr., the borough president, highlighted problems and successes in the Bronx and plans for the coming year. One of his central topics was the Jerome Avenue rezoning, which is on the cusp of being approved by City Council. “Whatever we do, this rezoning has to work for everyone, especially the tenants and small businesses in the rezoned neighborhoods,” Diaz Jr said.
The rezoning represents a major change to a large commercial strip of the South Bronx, and has faced vocal opposition from some residents and business owners. What’s it all about?
What is the rezoning? What is being proposed?
The plan covers a 92-block section of Jerome Avenue and some surrounding streets in the South Bronx. The section runs through the Highbridge, Mount Hope, Concourse, University Heights, Morris Heights, and Mount Eden communities. The avenue is lined by small scale one-or two-story independent auto-related businesses, like garages, repair shops, and accessories shops, as well as residential units.
Zoning for much of the area only permits heavy commercial and light industrial uses, but the new plan proposes changing these rules—to allow for mixed residential, retail, and service use. Some areas would remain the same. But the change would pave the way for 4,000 new privately owned residential apartments, housing more than 12,000 people.
The rezoning is part of a wider, multi-agency plan for the neighborhood, which includes zoning, housing, community resources, access to greenery, and an economic and workforce development strategy.
Why Jerome Avenue?
The request for the reconsideration of land use around Jerome Avenue came from Community Boards four and five, two of the community boards located along the rezoning strip, according to the NYC Department of City Planning.
About a century ago, the area began to be used to service automobiles from the dense residential areas along Grand Concourse (three blocks east of Jerome Ave) and other surrounding neighborhoods. This land use was cemented in a city-wide rezoning in 1961 and hasn’t been revised since.
Advocates for the rezoning believed that the land use rules should be changed because community needs have changed since then. For example, there is high demand for housing in the area; vacancy rates are lower than other parts of the Bronx and New York in general, the department says.
Another reason the area was chosen was because it’s well connected to public transport, making it suitable for residential development. The 4 train runs along Jerome Avenue on an elevated railway and the B and D trains run on the nearby Grand Concourse. Several buses connect the area to other parts of the Bronx and Manhattan.
Who is likely to be affected by the rezoning? Why has the plan been controversial?
Local advocates and anti-gentrification groups, like the Bronx Coalition for a Community Vision, believe that rezoning the area will displace local businesses and tenants because it will promote higher rents in the area. They think the rezoning will increase the displacement risk for people living in rent-stabilized housing.
At public meetings, some locals also highlighted other instances of major, multi-block rezoning in Brooklyn that they say sped up gentrification and displaced people. In terms of businesses, while some of the current zoning (and thus some of the auto industry) will remain, locals raised concerns about how displaced businesses would be relocated and supported, as well as the potential decrease in wages from these businesses.
Almost 20% of the residents in the neighborhoods surrounding Jerome Avenue earn less than $10,000 a year, and median income is $26,226—almost exactly half that in New York City ($51,865), according to the Department of City Planning. More than 94% of residents in the area self-identified as either Latino or African American in the last census. Two thirds of existing housing in the area is rent controlled at the moment.
The rezoning is at the penultimate stage of approval in the process. The NY City Council must make a decision by mid-March about whether the changes go ahead. After this, Mayor de Blasio will have five days to make any changes or veto the change.
The rezoning process has been in the pipeline for a long time; the affected communities have been consulted since 2014. But the formal approval process, a seven-month long affair that governs changes to land use in New York, began last year.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s happened so far: