Developer not ashamed of opening up to homeless

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Mark Stagg is likely one of the community’s most prolific builders in recent years, adding several apartment buildings along Broadway and on Fort Independence Street.

On Monday, the developer stepped before Community Board 8’s land use committee, ready to talk about two new projects that would add another 175 or so apartments across from Van Cortlandt Park. But it wasn’t the structure, the parking, or even the rents that seemed to dominate the thoughts of committee chair Charles Moerdler. Instead, it was about something Stagg did in the past: Turn one of its apartment buildings into a transitional housing facility for the homeless.

It’s something Moerdler — despite the projects Stagg has completed since — was not going to let go.

“Are you going to flip this to a homeless shelter?” Moerdler asked. “You know, you generated a fair amount of upset last time. That was then. That was mild. I guarantee you a lawsuit this time.”

Although his terminology isn’t quite right, Moerdler was referring to a Stagg building finished in late 2017 at 5731 Broadway that transformed into a $5 million-per-year transitional facility. Unlike traditional overnight homeless shelters, these units were earmarked by the city’s homeless services department for families on their way to getting back on their feet — providing apartments for a year or so, and helping them transition into their own apartments on their own steam.

The announcement of the transitional facility created an uproar among neighbors who worried about spikes in crime and lower property values — none of which ever materialized.

Stagg said there are no plans for either of his latest Broadway projects to be contracted to the city, but he also offered no apology for how 5731 Broadway came together.

“If you look at how the community came together in a positive way, and you look at the family residents that there all these years later, that as a community, that we did the right thing,” Stagg said. “There was a demand. There was a need. We see three years later, we’ve won the award last year for best-operated family residence in the five boroughs.”

Yet, Stagg promised the community board at the time it would offer a mix of market-rate and affordable apartments on the site, former CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty said, and instead Stagg pulled the rug out from under everyone.

“The problem was we were sold something that didn’t turn out the way we were told,” Ginty said.

“If this is going to be a shelter, come up and say it. The city can talk to us. We’re a mature community that can talk about it. But don’t hand us one thing and switch it out.”

Yet, that wasn’t what he intended to do, Stagg said. The goal was indeed to open standard apartments at 5731 Broadway — but that all changed when he got a call from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office.

“I’m proud I put a facility in there that is a shining star in this community,” Stagg said. “I made a decision ultimately that the need was there in the community to house its fair share. And that’s when I made a decision that I wanted to be part of the solution.”

That won’t stop with Stagg’s two latest buildings, planned for 5278 Post Road, and 6375 Broadway, next to The W Assisted Living at Riverdale. The Van Cortlandt Motel — which Moerdler blames for lowering quality of life in the surrounding neighborhood — could be up for grabs. Stagg is considering buying the motel, but it could be a costly venture. The current motel owner has a 50-year lease, he said, and they are demanding top dollar to be bought out.

“I’ve spoken to some public elected officials as well about the motel,” Stagg said. “I know the motel, I would come in like the knight in shining armor if I bought the motel, and we collaboratively as a community came up with a plan that would beautify and improve that area for not just this generation, but the next generation as well.

“I don’t want to talk about 2017 any longer, because I am sensitive. I do take it personal. I was called upon for what I consider my civic duty, and I did it.”

Ground could break on Stagg’s next two apartment buildings in North Riverdale by the beginning of November. While one of the properties currently carries a Post Road address, the plan is to instead front the building on Broadway, offering studio apartments beginning at $1,700, with two-bedrooms renting for as much as $2,400.

Both projects are as-of-right, meaning they have minimal government red tape to navigate through as both buildings become reality.

Still, Moerdler said, Stagg can’t lose sight of the direct opportunity he has to almost single-handedly turn this part of North Riverdale around.

“You have a unique opportunity of endearing yourself to this community by helping us try to upgrade that area,” Moerdler said. “Because what you do in these two spots — which are clearly cornerstone or foundation spots of the area — are the kind of things that will either market upward-bound or downward-bound.”

And if it goes downward-bound? “That’s not something I want to be a part of.”

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