We must protect the little green space we have left


Many people in the Bronx like green space in their neighborhoods. But they have no say in the matter.

The Coalition to Save Brust Park fought mightily to protect a beautiful little park from a large development bordering it that would shade and kill its trees. This is the same builder that — as reported by The Riverdale Press — when granted a permit to renovate the beautiful old Villa Rosa Bonheur, “accidentally” destroyed it.

Rather than ordering it repaired, our buildings department gave this developer a permit to build 55 units on the site. 

The developer did such a great “renovation” that DOB then gave it a permit to build across town, next to beautiful Brust Park — a structure that will block almost all direct sunlight from reaching its forest and lawn.

But not a regular R-6 zoned building. There is a 15-foot-wide strip of cliffside that, 150 years ago, someone called a street. It was never even traveled. This “street,” if it met with tiny Dash Place there, supposedly makes it a “corner lot,” which requires no yard area as a regular R-6 building would, and so can be even larger.

Of course, there is no plan to build the useless street. Still not big enough? How about we use an arcane formula to put the “base plane” — the level of which anything below it doesn’t count as height — to make a four-story building into an eight? We’ll call the lower stories “basement,” “cellar,” “sub-cellar one,” and “sub-cellar two.” Never mind what it does to the neighborhood.

The coalition is still waiting for city leaders to do something about this. They haven’t. We are approaching three years of construction hell so far, with probably at least another three to go. If they finish it, then we get the crowding that so many other areas of the city are famous for. If not, it remains the eyesore the backhoes have made it.

There was a petition that 1,000 neighbors signed asking the city to add the partial-acre lot to the park. It was ignored.

The coalition was in frequent contact with these agencies, trying hard to stop or reduce this project to something more reasonable. At DOB, it challenged the imaginary street and where the old map puts it, the high base plane, the traffic that would be added to tiny Dash Place, the “economical” architecture, the old city-built retaining walls that support the road and surrounding buildings, the impact on the park and its wildlife, and many other issues.

All of which the de Blasio-appointed city agencies — parks, buildings, transportation and city planning — that are supposed to protect our environment and quality of life, ignored. DOB barely looked at the 45 challenges.

So we sued, claiming dereliction of their duty. A strong Article 78 case is pending, yet these agencies continue to give even more permits for the project, and the environmental destruction continues.

Overwhelmingly, the locals oppose this and most of the many new huge buildings being approved by city planning and DOB in the area. Increases in traffic, sewage, crowded school and mass transit, pollution, taxes, noise, and conflicts are generally not welcome.

Just ask them. They’re losing green space where rain made trees grow instead of going into overflowing sewers.

The old R-6 zoning that covers large areas of the Bronx is encouraging the overbuilding. The time for that kind of zoning is over. Either it should be downzoned, or the zoning system should be scrapped and replaced with a community board with the democratic power to say “no” to bad projects.

Real estate now isn’t about finding a place to live and grow old. It’s about profits, some of which become campaign donations for politicians who look the other way.

Homelessness has been a serious problem since shortly after the Dutch landed here. Despite 400 years of frantic building, it has not gotten better. In fact, there’s about 520 square feet of living space per person in New York City — 2,080 square feet for a family of four.

Apartments have become a commodity, often left vacant.

Homelessness could end with a better utilization of them — perhaps a tax on unoccupied space. Or rent control. Limits on how many apartments one can have. Or, perhaps, we could build some buildings in other states that actually want more people.

There are many solutions to homelessness that don’t involve killing more of our green space. Overcrowding isn’t needed or wise. It leads to those who live here increasingly wanting to leave. A city of transients isn’t one that people care about, or about each other. They — or you — will soon be gone.

We all want a place to call home, with a stable quality of life. One that we can invest our lives and family in. Treating real estate like a product or commodity is the opposite of that. We need agencies that care about the future of the city, not just donors.

Clearly it’s time to downzone, but the only ones that can do that are beholden to real estate donors. It’s time for campaign finance reform, or time for those who can afford it to move.

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Jim Wacker,