Activists raise $11,000 to fight Waldo Avenue project

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Petitions have been part of the Coalition to Save Brust Park ever since the public first learned of plans to build a high-density residential building in a Waldo Avenue lot where a single-family home originally stood.

These activists brought a number of concerns to the table — everything from the impact on parking and traffic, to the kinds of shadows cast over the nearly two acres that make up the pocket park near Manhattan College.

Over the past year, the coalition has primarily collected signatures for three petitions, including one to compel the owner of 3893 Waldo — Timber Equities — to partner with its neighbors, or even consider having the take over the project.

With some 1,000 signatures in hand, the coalition met with representatives of both the owner and architects of the proposed 29-unit building, expected to tower by as much as six stories over Brust Park. Their requests focused on moving the entire building back 15 feet from the street, or even selling the property to the city’s parks department as a way to expand Brust.

The ownership group — which had purchased the property in 2018 for $1.75 million — reportedly rejected all these requests.

Now, the coalition is focused on strengthening its relationship with elected officials like Councilman Andrew Cohen and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz in the hopes of salvaging some sort of victory from what appears to be an as-of-right construction project.

“It was a big move to bring a stack of signatures to elected officials and show that all of these people in the community want to protect Brust Park,” said Aurora De Armendi, one of the key leaders inside the coalition.

From the beginning, De Armendi has warned this new building would significantly impact the park’s ecosystem. While noise and air pollution wouldn’t help Brust, neither would increased traffic and blocked sunlight.

Even worse, De Armendi and the coalition believes the new building would interrupt the flow of water into the park.

“It will keep water from arriving to the stream,” said Jim Wacker, another coalition member. “The water that falls on the property now goes into the stream, and it will probably never have water in it again once this is built.”

The coalition has worked to push for an environmental review to address these and other issues they’ve expressed from the construction plans. They’ve even tried to stake a claim that part of the land Timber Equities has control of has evolved into parkland, and that interpretation of city laws would mean the land must remain parkland.

Developers have noted Brust Park and the Waldo property are separated by empty land that is actually platted to be an extension of West 242nd Street, which was never built. If coalition members can get government officials or even a court to take their side that the platted land is now part of Brust Park, that could create additional red tape for Timber Equities, forcing the developers to comply with laws specific to properties that immediately border a parkland.

So far, however, those efforts have been unsuccessful. What’s complicated it even more is that 3893 Waldo doesn’t require an environmental review ahead of construction, meaning impacts to the park won’t be considered by city officials.

Calder Orr, another member of the coalition, disagrees, saying there are enough problems with this project to justify an environmental review. Making that happen, however, will likely take an order from a judge — something the coalition is notably missing.

“It is clear that there will be these impacts on the park,” Orr said. “But without the environmental review, they will not be considered.”

Still, the coalition is raising money through an online crowdfunding site to pay for an environmental lawyer. With more than 90 individual donations, nearly $11,000 has been raised with a goal of $15,000. One anonymous donor contributed $3,500 at the beginning for the campaign.

A spokesman for Timber Equities told The Riverdale Press back in May 2019 that they had “begun to reach out to local stakeholders, and will maintain an open line of communication as the process continues. Brust Park is an important asset to the local community, and we will work diligently to avoid any adverse impacts to the park.”

Taking on developers, however, takes making friends, De Armendi said. Along the way, the coalition has connected with the Friends of Spuyten Duyvil and the Kingsbridge Historical Society. Both unsuccessfully fought another Timber Equities project on Palisade Avenue, the demolition of Villa Rosa Bonheur — one of the borough’s original multi-family structures.

“The people who organized against the Villa Rosa destruction have been offering their advice to us,” said Sherry Kassel, another Coalition to Save Brust Park member. “Different groups in the community are supporting each other as they try to preserve the green spaces.”

The coalition has scrutinized every permit the developers file in an effort to ensure construction guidelines are followed. Some of the more recent clashes have involved fencing around the project, which has resulted in some visits from buildings department inspectors.

Long term, coalition members hope to push for broader zoning changes — primarily to remove some of the higher density zoning that still exists in their neighborhood, even beyond 3893 Waldo — so community members like them can have more of a say in future development.

“We want to address the issue not to stop all construction,” coalition member Melanie Wacker said, “but to preserve the character of Riverdale.”

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