Tag Archive | "Norwood"

Rezoning confusion for Norwood’s business owners

A view of Webster Avenue in Norwood. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

A view of Webster Avenue in Norwood. Photo: Elisabeth Anderson

Many business owners in the Norwood section of Webster Avenue were caught unaware last week when the city began its formal approval process for a rezoning plan to revitalize the commercial stretch.

“What rezoning?” asked Maurice Sarkissian, 40, whose Sarkissian Food Service Equipment & Supplies, a restaurant supply business, has been in his family – and on Webster Avenue – for 50 years.

If the plan is approved, Sarkissian and his business colleagues along the corridor may soon find out that it involves less commercial use on Webster Avenue from East Gun Hill Road to the north to East Fordham Road to the south.  The cutbacks would make way for the development of nearly 740 units of affordable housing and 100,000 square feet of retail space.  The goal is to make Webster Avenue a safe, lively and walkable corridor.

The Department of City Planning certified the plan last week, offering it for public review for up to 60 days.  From there, the plan faces several more levels of approval before making it to city council for a final vote.  Community Board 7 District Manager Fernando Tirado, 40, estimated that the vote could happen by March, and that construction could begin as early as the spring.

Sarkissian believes Webster Avenue’s wide boulevard will never be safe for children.  He believes that crime is not caused by businesses, but by poor policing.  The 52nd Precinct reported a five percent increase in crime complaints from early September to early October as compared to the same period last year. Sarkissian blames businesses that are open until 2 or 3 a.m. “They need to cut out all the hangouts,” he said.

Sarkissian defended most of the businesses in the area.  “We keep the neighborhood nice, clean,” he said, adding that businesses like his were vital to the local Norwood economy because they bring customers into the big retail hubs along 204th Street and Gun Hill Road. “To make a neighborhood, you can’t chase good people out,” Sarkissian said.

But Tirado said that the area has to look ahead. “We want some smarter development,” he said.  According to a city planning spokesperson, existing businesses would be grandfathered into the new zoning plan.  They can remain and invest in their properties, and potentially benefit from an expanded customer base and revived corridor.

A number of business owners, like Sarkissian, still felt their futures were in jeopardy, unsure if the changing dynamic of the neighborhood would create public pressure for commercial businesses to leave.

“That’s not too good cause we don’t know where we’re going to go,” said John Joe Bennett, 51, of the plan.  Bennett, a 51-year-old Jamaican immigrant with a wife and eight children to support, owns John Joe Auto.   His shop has been on Webster Avenue since 1992, and he said he felt secure only until his current lease ends, in December 2012.  “My customers are mostly local,” Bennett said.  “If we move, will they follow?”

One customer at an unmarked auto repair shop a few storefronts north of John Joe Auto thought the move was a good one.  Miguel Alcantara, 45, who drives a taxi for New College Car Service, praised the plan, saying “It needs to be safer here.” He said in the future he wouldn’t mind driving to a repair shop further away.

Public pressure could be a factor for Bennett, as his business does not fall within the confines of a three-block sliver of Webster Avenue north of 205th Street that will remain zoned for exclusively auto-industry businesses.

Neither does Edmund Tierney’s business.  Tierney, 50, owns Tierney’s Auto Repair in the same building as Bennett’s.   “if it brings more people to the area, it has to be good,” said Tierney, who lives in Yonkers with his wife and three children.

Residents tend to share Tierney’s optimism.  “It’s not safe at night,” said Floyd Middleton, 44, who lives around the corner from Webster Avenue on 204th Street with his wife and two children.  “There’s a lot of gang-related violence at night.”  He believes the uptick in crime is related to fewer jobs; he has been looking for work himself for nearly a year.  Middleton thinks that bringing more retail positions to the area will help.

“If we develop, it’ll be a good thing,” he said.  He hoped to see large chain stores and a supermarket on Webster Avenue, so his family would not have to trek to Fordham Road or 125th Street in Manhattan for clothes and groceries.

But Chris McDonald, a 43-year-old Jamaican immigrant who is an apprentice auto mechanic at John Joe Auto, scratched his head over that notion.  Norwood is already awash in retail, he noted.  Not to mention his prospects for future work.  “I’ve just started,” McDonald said.  “I’d like to stay a while.”

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Honoring a standout sister in Norwood

Sr. Catherine poses with a friend. Photo: courtesy Sr. Anne Queenan

Sr. Catherine, left, poses with a friend. Photo: courtesy Sr. Anne Queenan

Dressed in a purple skirt suit and printed blouse, Sister Catherine Naughton squeezed hands, shared hugs, and greeted approximately 200 guests outside St. Brendan Catholic Church in the Norwood section of the Bronx.  The small 68-year-old nun paused to embrace a more robust Claire McCabe, 80, who hugged back – hard.

“If Sister Catherine left, our leisure club would fall apart,” McCabe said, of the church’s group for senior outings, activities, and exercise.

Naughton is revered for her ministry to seniors, and luckily for McCabe, she has no plans to retire.  The guests who came on an autumn Saturday to honor her 50 years of Catholic life at a Golden Jubilee mass included her family and her Dominican sisters from Sparkill, N.Y., where her order is based.

A dynamic community activist, Naughton is one of a shrinking group of women in religious life.  According to the Index of Leading Catholic Indicators, there were 180,000 sisters in 1965.  By 2020 there will be just 40,000.

Naughton began her calling when Norwood was still full of McCabes.  Today, the neighborhood is half Hispanic.

In a changing community, Naughton has been a constant source of strength for many.  “Sister really has been an inspiration to me personally,” said the Rev. George Stewart, 42, pastor of St. Brendan and officiant at Naughton’s mass.  “As a man, as a priest, and as a pastor.”

For the past eight years, Naughton has run St. Brendan’s senior outreach program for more than 100 regular participants; it includes a leisure club, exercise classes, and a lunch program.  The 102-year-old parish boasts between 1,700 and 2,000 congregants, approximately 25 percent of whom are over age 65.

Naughton has also made a mark ministering to the parish’s sick.  “When Paul was in the hospital, she was at his bedside, bringing meals,” said Jeanne Hveem, 64, speaking of her husband, a deacon at St. Brendan, who recently suffered a heart attack.

Stewart stressed the importance of Naughton’s leadership role.  “She’s often my eyes and ears to what’s going on,” said Stewart.  “Who is sick, who is in the hospital, even who has passed.”  After a short commute from her home in Riverdale, she spends hours at a time in nursing homes and hospitals.

She started that committed approach to ministry 50 years ago on Sept. 8, when she and 57 other young women became Dominican sisters at Sparkill.  St. Dominic founded the Dominican Order in the 13th century with an emphasis on active service; hundreds of years ago, its friars traveled rather than live sequestered in monasteries.  In 1876, Alice Mary Thorpe founded the Dominican Sisters of Our Lady of the Rosary.  The sisters came to St. Brendan in 1912 to start a religious education program at the new parish school.

Naughton came to St. Brendan in 2002.  Born in Washington Heights and a self-professed “city girl,” she was glad to be back in the Bronx, where she had worked 45 years ago.  Naughton had been looking for a new place to minister to seniors, and she sent letters to many parishes and to Rev. Patrick Hennessey, St. Brendan’s now-deceased former pastor, who hired her and put her in charge of senior outreach.

But Naughton hasn’t always worked with seniors.  Early in her career, sisters were not allowed to choose their own ministry, and she trained to be a teacher.  She said that when the policy changed in the aftermath of Vatican II, it was a defining moment for her.  “We’ve received the freedom to follow where our gifts are,” she said.  She tried her hand as a teacher, a hospital chaplain, and a senior housing worker, among other roles.

“I’m a Gemini,” she joked.  “So we kind of dabble!”  Her senior housing work led her to senior outreach, and she has not looked back.

At Naughton’s mass, Stewart presented her with a plaque and bouquet in appreciation.  “Why don’t you move to the center,” he asked from the altar, “so we can embarrass you some more.”

The vision in purple didn’t skip a beat as she walked up to embrace Stewart, to great applause.  “It’s a blessed event,” she said.  “I’m very honored.”

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