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Residents Voice Concerns Over Planned School and Housing Development

Bronx residents voiced concerns Tuesday, over a proposed development that would include a new school and apartment complex at the site of the former Church of the Visitation at the first in-person Community Board  8 meeting since the pandemic.

Tishman Speyer, a real estate investment firm, purchased part of the former site of the Church of the Visitation, located at 171 West 239th Street in Kingsbridge, and plans to build a 336-unit residential building with approximately 70 parking spaces. The other part of the site was purchased by New York City School Construction Authority to build an approximately 736-seat school.

“We had advocated for a school on that site. They’re accommodating the school but the school that they’re accommodating is reduced to one-quarter of the property,” said Christina Carlson, a college professor at Iona University who lives close to the site.

Visitation School at 171 W. 239th St. was closed in 2017. Mingxuan Zhu for The Bronx Ink

“It doesn’t allow for a playground, it doesn’t allow for outdoor space. It’s terrible. It’s just not appropriate for the neighborhood,” Carlson said.

The Church of Visitation was closed in 2015, and its parochial school was closed in 2017. New York State 81st District Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz said that since then, he has been proposing a new school. Building a new school at the site would be ideal since there are four school zones, each within a few blocks away, and the new school can alleviate the overcrowding at the other schools.

However, Tishman Speyer’s residential housing program is going to occupy 1.3 acres of the site, leaving the school with only half an acre.

“I want the school on the site, on the whole site,” said Dinowitz in the meeting. “It’s very important that we get that the school is going to be crammed into a little corner, a little part of that site. And it’s just not enough.”

There were also concerns about the housing complex.

Tishman Speyer is going to build an eight-story building with 25% studio, 45% one-bedroom, 20% two-bedroom, and 10% three-bedroom, resulting in more than 40 units per floor, according to Gary Rodney, the Managing Director and the Head of Affordable Housing at Tishman Speyer. The project is going to be built between Van Cortlandt Park South and 239th Street, and between Broadway and the entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway.

Residents are also worried that building a school and residential housing with just 70 parking spaces is going to add more pressure to the already congested corridor.

“Imagine what it would be like with at least an additional 1,000 vehicles including dozens of school buses, staff, teachers and private cars,” said Giovanni Puello, a retired consultant who also lives close to the site. “This is a recipe for a disaster.”

Carlson also voiced her concern about the traffic at the school.

“Where will they gather in the event of a fire drill, or god forbid, a fire when the fire trucks can’t get to them because of the traffic,” she said.

Robert Fanuzzi, a community board member, who was also at the land use committee meeting, voiced his concerns over the site’s geographical region, which is vulnerable to flooding.

The Bronx was heavily impacted when Hurricane Ida hit New York City last year. Kingsbridge and Van Cortlandt sections suffered most of the flooding, especially Major Deegan Expressway, right by the site.

The Major Deegan Expressway has been closed three times since Hurricane Ida.

“You (Tishman Speyer) are contributing a lot of wastewater now through additional units, residential space to already sewers that I need to tell you are at capacity and presenting a real public emergency on a regular basis now,” Fanuzzi said. “There is definitely an environmental impact of building in a flood zone.”

A spokesperson from Tishman Speyer declined an interview request, but sent a statement via email.

“We are pleased to be a part of the redevelopment of the former Visitation Church site, which will bring quality affordable housing and much-needed public school seats to the neighborhood,” it stated.  

“We are grateful for the opportunity to present our initial vision for an all-affordable apartment building to Community Board 8 and appreciate the feedback we have received from the community.”

Laura Spalter, chair of Community Board 8, said that she understands the concerns of the community regarding traffic, public safety, flood planning and education for the children, however, the Tishman Speyer affordable housing project is an as-of-right project, meaning the company can take action without obtaining permission from the community. 

“We can try to influence the design, and we have set up a committee with Tishman and members of our traffic and transportation committee, also members of our environment and sanitation committee,” Spalter said.

“But this is an as-of-right project, so we don’t have a vote.”

“It wouldn’t be as problematic if it wasn’t next to this affordable housing project. People support affordable housing. They support a school. But it’s the density,” she said. “That’s just a lot of cars, a lot of traffic, a lot of school buses… Just a lot.”

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Education, Housing0 Comments