It’s been about 10 months since Timber Equities broke ground at Villa Rosa Bonheur, located at Palisade Avenue in the Spuyten Duyvil section of Riverdale.
Various activists groups and individuals have spent countless hours to halt the demolition of the roof of the house which, when the curtain was pulled back, was discovered to have been allowed to progress without permits or oversight of the city’s buildings department.
It took 11 weeks for the DOB to pull the file and actually read it, finally admitting on Nov. 8 that their “nothing to see here, folks” approach was simply wrong. When pressed for an explanation, DOB officials admitted only an error on the part of a clerk, with no other details offered.
As Villa Rosa Bonheur now sits, broken and derelict — open to the elements of three seasons — we need to ask ourselves: Is it time to move on? The answer may be yes, but not in the defeatist, “VRB is dead, anyway,” manner in which some might view it.
Villa Rosa Bonheur is not a lost cause, as evidenced by local groups’ efforts to still save it. But this is not of which we speak. All over the larger community of Riverdale and the Northwest Bronx, developers have our beloved community clearly in their sights for future demolition and construction. They seek to sandwich the tallest, most densely constructed steel and glass buildings they can possibly fit between the low-rise, landscaped residential buildings and houses, with little or not attention to the local infrastructure of environmental concerns of the neighborhood, or the community as a whole.
The very things that we value about Riverdale are the same things that attract real estate developers: This green space which brings with it fresh air and quiet. While we appreciate the aesthetic and healthful value of our green space, developers see it as an opportunity, that which should be filled with glass, steel and concrete.
In his May 23 Facebook posting on this subject, Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz wrote, “Since the beginning of 2016, there have been 63 permits for new buildings filed with DOB in the 81st Assembly District, and dozens more have filed for demolition.” Assemblyman Dinowitz ended his detailed three paragraphs this way: “And when somebody dares to voice concerns about the impact on their neighborhood, they are told, ‘Too bad. We can do whatever we want, because the property is as-of-right.’ I don’t think that is a good way to operate, and it is very clear that changes need to be made.”
Facebook responses asked: “So as an elected officials, what is your plan?” But after much thought, I arrived at what the question really should be: “What do we want to do about it?”
We need to stop thinking about development trends as isolated events, segregated by individual neighborhoods. We need to stop thinking about ourselves as simply residents, but vested parties: Home or leaseholders with financial interests in maintaining the fabric of life we moved here for, taxpayers and voters.
The issue of development in Riverdale needs to be at the top of the list we care about, because it represents a pivotal and existential crisis. We need to pay attention to what’s going on in our community, and in our city. We need to educate ourselves as to how development impacts our present lives, and our future lives.
We need to let our elected officials know what we want to do about it, so they can represent our interests and make changes as our representatives. We need to let them know that development is an issue that will impact elections, in terms of how we choose our representatives, because the future of Riverdale depends on it.
And so I challenge the readers of The Riverdale Press to start doing the same: Take a little time out of your day, think about the Riverdale you want to raise your kids in and you want to grow old in. Then let your elected officials and your neighbors know.
The Riverdale I want to grow old in includes green space, fresh air and views of the majestic Hudson. I lived in other places without those things, and made the decision to live in a place where those things are valued and actively preserved.
I’m willing to do my part, and I hope that you, as my neighbors, will do so, too.