Once eyed for medical facility, lonely lot has no clear future

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“Work in progress: Demolition,” the sign reads. “Anticipated completion: December 2013.”

It’s been a long time since the notice was posted on the green fence concealing the empty lot that is 3735 Riverdale Ave. And it’s been a long time since there was even a whisper of what the space might become.

Business owners along the street don’t much notice the lot. In fact, it kind of blends into the background for many of them. Almost like white noise.

“There are a lot of empty lots in the city,” Tara Brown said, shrugging. She stopped for frozen yogurt at Yo-Burger on her way back home to Manhattan.

“I mean, they’re not that unusual. They’re everywhere.”

The space was once slated to be an 11-story Montefiore ambulatory medical center. Shortly after the building that once stood there was leveled, the health care system announced in March 2013 that it would open a much-needed one-stop shop  — urgent care, primary care and specialists in one centrally located facility.

Montefiore would lease the space from Simone Healthcare Development, doing business as Riverdale Realty Development. The Bronx-based developer has a portfolio of more than 100 commercial properties and has managed hospitals and medical facilities in the New York metropolitan area.

Montefiore, in turn, is one of the largest employers in the borough, with six medical campuses throughout the Bronx. The two companies collaborated on an 11-story ambulatory center in Morris Park’s Hutchinson Metro Center in 2014.

It appeared Simone simply had to secure the work permits to begin construction. They’d not, however, counted on neighbors opposing the center.

Residents of homes nearby on West 238th Street and Oxford Avenue argued that the facility would be a stark contrast to the small mom-and-pop businesses already located along that stretch of Riverdale Avenue. The tall building’s shadow would loom over their once-sunny yards. And the glut of traffic that would come would make already scarce parking almost impossible to find.

After untold numbers of calls to elected officials, strongly worded letters of protest and crowded Community Board 8 meetings, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz and former state Sen. Jeffrey Klein introduced legislation that would require projects like this one to undergo state review.

By 2015 Montefiore declared it had enough. Even revising their plans to reduce the height of the building to six stories and adding ground-floor parking wasn’t enough to appease the locals. Montefiore canceled their proposed medical facility, declaring they wouldn’t look for alternative sites, not just in Riverdale, but in all the northwest Bronx.

That left Simone Development with the land. The company began contemplating constructing an 11-story, 48-unit luxury apartment building there instead.

“Forty-eight apartments (are) far less traffic than a medical office building would have generated,” Simone president H. Guy Libler said in a March 25 community meeting. “So we think it is not anywhere close given that the typical resident will leave in the morning and go to work or whatever their schedule is for the day and come back later on.”

At the time, Dinowitz seemed pleased at the idea, especially since high-rise apartment buildings existed nearby. Neighbors appeared a little more open to apartments because it wouldn’t require as much parking, although that concern never fully vanished.

In 2017, Simone Development brought in architectural firm Newman Design. Renderings sent to the city showed a 175-foot building containing 43 units with ground-floor retail space and parking for 38 vehicles.

But then, well, nothing happened. No scaffolding went up. No work crews. No jackhammers. No nothing.

“I’ve not heard any rumors of any specific plan for the property,” Dinowitz said this past week.

There was some talk Simone planned to sell the land at some point, the Assemblyman said, but nothing came of it.

“It’s ugly, but the people there got what they wanted,” Dinowitz said. “The Montefiore thing wasn’t done. What will happen to it in the future? I don’t know.”

It’s not inconceivable that it could still become an apartment building, but right now, nobody’s heard anything. On the city’s buildings department website, nothing but some mandatory paperwork has been filed with the city in the last two years.

And that’s OK with Jim Grossman. He led the grassroots neighborhood group that fought the medical center.

“I’d rather not like to see a tall building go there,” he said, “although I think they have the right to build to a certain height there.”

The city doesn’t require more parking to accommodate the new buildings going up, which isn’t the fault of the developers, but something the city should address sooner than later.

“Besides,” Grossman added, “why is everybody building new apartments here when half the ones they just built are still empty?”

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