VILLA ROSA BONHEUR — PART II

Planned apartment building could cast dark shadow over Brust Park

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As weather and nature continue to decimate what’s left of the Villa Rosa Bonheur apartment building in Spuyten Duyvil, people who enjoy a small park near Manhattan College less than two miles away have their own fight they’re arming themselves for.

A single-family home near Brust Park is set to come down in the coming weeks, and in its place is expected to be a 29-unit apartment building that could tower some six stories over the natural enclave.

It might sound somewhat different than what’s happening with the proposed 55-unit complex where Villa Rosa Bonheur currently sits at 2395 Palisade Ave., but they both have a major element in common — developer Timber Equities.

Through a spokesman, the developer confirmed plans to construct a rental building at 3893 Waldo Ave., which it purchased last year for $1.75 million. Although its Spuyten Duyvil project is halted while the developer sorts through various violations in the demolition of the century-old building there, Timber says it will follow all the rules when it comes to Waldo Avenue.

“We have begun to reach out to local stakeholders and will maintain an open line of communication as the process continues,” Timber Equities said in a statement to The Riverdale Press. “Brust Park is an important asset to the local community, and we will work diligently to avoid any adverse impacts on the park.”

On the advice of Community Board 8, the developers said they reached out to the Stewards of Brust Park, a community group that helps the parks department maintain the natural area.

But the reception Timber Equities received was likely a cold one. Stewards coordinator Jacqueline Hosford was one of more than 20 people who gathered last Sunday in the fifth floor community room of neighboring 3875 Waldo Ave., with one goal in mind: Stop this apartment project dead in its tracks. Discussed plans ranged from petition drives, to even fundraisers that could help them buy the property from Timber Equities. But one thing was indeed certain — they planned to make their presence known at Monday’s CB8 land use committee meeting at The Riverdale Y.

“Time is of the essence,” Hosford told the group. “We don’t have time to have little group meetings if there is going to be a concerted effort. We don’t have that much time. We have to work very methodically and get people behind our efforts.”

Yet reality might be the biggest obstacle to overcome. The property already is zoned for the density Timber Equities wants to build, according to some members of the meeting, and construction could actually begin as of right — meaning far less red tape in the approval process.

Then again, demolition of Villa Rosa Bonheur was supposed to be a certainty, and but it has been stopped for months. Some members of this newly formed Coalition to Save Brust Park expressed optimism that maybe they could work with the people fighting the first Timber Equities project.

Cooperation between the Brust Park group and what is now known as the Spuyten Duyvil Neighborhood Coalition could have its benefits, according to one of the latter group’s representatives, Alex Mustelier. But it could have its drawbacks as well.

“Essentially, you have two groups that are battling the same issue, which is essentially stopping these high-density development projects from coming into our area,” Mustelier said. “But we also want to be careful that we don’t lose our own focus on stopping the destruction of Villa Rosa Bonheur.”

The Spuyten Duyvil group recently incorporated, and is now seeking non-profit status. It’s also working to raise $5,000 to pay for legal services in an effort to stall or even halt more work at 2395 Palisade. But it’s still a long and difficult road ahead.

“We are essentially throwing everything at the wall and see what sticks,” Mustelier said. “We want to start to be a thorn in their side. But do I think we’ll win? I don’t know that for sure. But I do know that if we can get some sort of restraining order to stop them from continuing, that would buy us more time to strategize and find a way to save it.”

Mustelier’s group also plans to attend Monday’s land use committee meeting, which suggests there will be quite a packed house to talk all things Timber Equities. The developer themselves, through their spokesperson, also said they’ll be at the meeting, which starts at 7:30 p.m.

Aurora De Armendi, who lives near Brust Park and helped put the coalition to fight the 3893 Waldo development together, hopes the group can find a reasonable path that will make both neighbors and the developer happy. And that could mean targeting one of Timber Equities’ partners — Fieldston resident Jeff Torkin.

“He lives in a historic community that cannot be developed. It’s protected,” De Armendi said.

“We have some friends in the Fieldston community who are willing to sign this petition and maybe put a little pressure on him. To maybe have him put himself in the shoes of his neighbors, and realize that in the long-term, this is something that could harm the park.”

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