New development in the northern Bronx neighborhood of Williamsbridge was dealt a heavy blow by a rezoning during the late Bloomberg administration, from which it will likely not recover. But at least some construction activity may be set to resume, with an application filed yesterday for a new eight-story, 59-unit residential building at 713 East 212st Street.
Before Bloomberg’s Department of City Planning downzoned the area in 2011, Williamsbridge was booming with small, market-rate construction projects. Builders bought empty lots and tore down single-family homes to build larger two- and three-family buildings, some even bigger, erecting some of the cheapest new apartments in the city. Over the past few years, two- and three-family homes that were built during the mid- to late-2000s boom have occasionally traded below half a million – a price point that makes these buildings affordable to many middle-class Bronx residents.
That wave of construction has dried up, though. Partly because of the recession, but a more persistent problem was a 2011 rezoning that greatly restrained redevelopment. The Department of City Planning, led by Amanda Burden at the time, administered their standard outer borough solution in Williamsbridge: they upzoned a bit of land near the main commercial arterial streets, but downzoned a much larger area in existing residential neighborhoods – where cheap two- and three-family buildings had been rising.
The land that was upzoned, around White Plains Road just north of Gun Hill Road, is nowhere near enough to compensate for the land to the north that was downzoned. But we’ve at least caught a sign of the resumption of new market-rate construction with yesterday’s permit filing.
The developer is Mark Irgang, who owns a number of apartment buildings in Harlem and the South Bronx. The 76,000-square foot building, designed by Orli Eshkar Architect, will contain a rather hefty 28,000 square feet of commercial space, which the Schedule A says will be stores and a two-story “physical culture establishment” (an onerous bureaucratic category that requires small business people looking to open nail salons, gyms, dance, yoga and pilates studios and massage parlors to prove they’re not brothels).
Mark Irgang started acquiring the four plots that make up the L-shaped development site – which includes the eastern block face of White Plains Road between East 212st and 213rd – way back in 1982, when he bought the first piece of land. The site is composed of two, two-story brick buildings on White Plains Road, and one disfigured Victorian home on East 212st.
While this project is very welcome, the Department of City Planning should recognize that it is not a substitute for the smaller-scale infill projects that were prohibited by the downzoning. The old two- and three-family homes had family-sized apartments that were well over 1,000 square feet in size, and they included no expensive off-street parking. The average unit size at this project, on the other hand, is not much more than 800 square feet, and the developer will be required to build 29 parking spots.
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