A behemoth from days when barons and bosses reigned supreme has walked away from a deal with the city, and Chuck Schumer had something to say: Honor the deal, get out of the way, and give the city its right-of-way.
A retinue of elected officials and community leaders gathered amidst the whoosh of traffic above the Major Deegan Expressway in the cold light of high noon last week, calling on Florida-based CSX Corp., to relinquish a coveted strip of land adjacent to the highway and sell it, at long last, to the city.
Helming their collective call was none other than Schumer, the U.S. Senate minority leader who visited the site Oct. 18 at the West 238th Street overpass near Putnam Avenue West in Kingsbridge, overlooking a spruced-up strip of still-CSX-owned land. Last year, CSX and the city appeared to overcome an impasse in letting go of the nearly one-mile stretch of land between Van Cortlandt Park South and West 230th Street — let an independent appraiser determine the land’s market value, and both sides would be bound by it.
That was big news at the time, since CSX was asking $10 million for the stretch from a city that had just $2 million to spend.
But once the appraiser set a figure, Schumer said CSX backed out, and now everyone is back to square one.
Schumer used the Oct. 18 news conference to urge CSX to stop stalling and instead stand by its word as the city presses on in its long-brewing plan to transform the abandoned parcel into a greenway. Proponents of the scheme called it a “critical link” that could connect the popular Manhattan and Hudson River greenways. It also could play a key role in “daylighting” the old Tibbetts Brook that runs underneath the rail corridor, which could help reduce sewage overflow to the Harlem River.
Schumer called the plan a “great project” that could “inject a vibrant green lifeline into the Bronx.
“All you have to do is look down,” Schumer said, glancing over the edge of the overpass. “The railroad is long gone. When was the last time a train rolled through here? Unfortunately, the right-of-way is still owned by a famous, large, powerful railroad.”
And what has CSX been doing with the “beautiful and valuable” land, Schumer asked. “Nada.”
If only the city could get its hands on it, a boon for cyclists like Schumer and Bronx borough president Ruben Diaz Jr., as well as runners.
“We’re telling CSX, stop blocking the tracks and take ‘yes’ for an answer,” the senator said. “We cannot allow this project to be delayed just ‘cause CSX wants to squeeze a few more pennies out of the community.”
CSX declined to answer specific questions from The Riverdale Press, including why it walked away from the deal or the amount it’s seeking, but referred to its “long history” of working with the city on property transactions that “support their long-term goals and allow CSX to focus on its core business.”
“We remain committed to discussing any potential property transaction,” CSX said “and working to find a mutually beneficial resolution.”
But the fact the company reportedly reneged on the agreement prompted several elected officials to call out CSX on snubbing a “fair price established by the independent expert,” Schumer said — an expert, “that CSX itself recommended.”
The city’s parks department is working with the administrative services department to acquire the property, said parks spokeswoman Crystal Howard, but CSX hasn’t accepted the city’s offer at this time. As for the price, “We understand the value to be confidential between CSX and the city,” Howard added.
Councilman Fernando Cabrera also wants CSX to get out of the way.
“There was a deal,” he said. CSX has “not kept their word. It’s affecting our community. It’s having an impact that is felt every time it rains,” when sewers flood and the deluge overwhelms businesses down on Broadway.
“That’s more water that we need to process throughout the city, and it’s costing us taxpayer money.”
But it also brings up the question of what the parcel could possibly be used for now that its railroad function is no more.
“They’re paying taxes on this,” Cabrera said. “Why do they want to pay taxes on a piece of property that they have absolutely no use for? There’s nothing they could do with this. This is glaringly brackish.”
Councilman Andrew Cohen, however, says he’s optimistic the city and CSX could finally reach a deal, especially now that Schumer has thrown his politico heavyweight clout behind the city’s push to acquire the land.
“I think CSX’s conduct here has really been despicable,” Cohen said. “But I’m confident that when this is brought to their attention again — today — with Sen. Schumer’s help and guidance, I think that they’re going to get to the place where they do the right thing.”
For Schumer, that couldn’t be clearer — the “right thing” means CSX needs to “get rolling and close this deal with the city so that we can finally put shovels in the ground.”
“It’s time for CSX to honor their word,” Schumer said. “Work with the city and local community to get this done.”