Tonight formally opens the public review known as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) as Community Board 7 convenes a required public hearing on the redevelopment of the Kingsbrige Armory. The meeting starts at 6:30 at Lehman College. Click here for details. The Board itself will vote (which is only advisory) on July 14.
But this is closer to the end of a long saga than the beginning of a land use battle. The Norwood News has been writing about this issue for 16 years (here's a link to archive of Norwood News armory stories dating back to 1998). I began writing about it as a freelancer for the Norwood News in 1993 when the National Guard first vacated the main building (the head house and drill hall) and then-District 10 Superintendent John Rehill proposed turning the entire facility into an education complex.
If you're new to the subject, this overview in the New York Observer covers most of the essential issues and conflicts, the main one being the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance's demand that retailers at the development pay workers a "living wage." Alex Kratz wrote about the living wage issue in the Norwood News a couple of months ago.
Speaking of the living wage issue, three pastors involved with KARA penned an op-ed in the latest issue of the Norwood News (will hit the streets and the Web by tomorrow morning) calling on Community Board 7 to vote no on the Related Plan since it doesn't include a living wage provision.
Meanwhile, Community Board 7 chair Greg Faulkner has indicated that the Board will probably vote for the Related proposal with conditions. He feels that's the only way to have leverage with Related when a Community Benefits Agreement gets crafted. If they just vote no, he believes the developer will just move on to the next level of review and ignore the community.
What everyone seems to agree on is that this massive landmark shouldn't be redeveloped into just a shopping mall and that a big chunk of community space should be in the final plan. Though the Rehill fantasy of transforming the facility into a giant complex of public schools obviously never materialized, getting public schools into the mix was a driving force for local parent activists. The Armory, after all, is at Ground Zero for the worst crowding in District 10, which in turn has long been the second or third most crowded district in the city. Three short blocks away, kids at PS 246 are still crammed into classes that were designed as dormitory rooms in a home for the blind. Somehow they've managed to fend off the portable classroom craze that has sucked up almost every other school yard in the district.
Foor a long time, it seemed that while schools wouldn't be allowed inside the armory (the Landmarks Commission definitely wouldn't have allowed developers to punch holes in the facade to allow for the necessary light, etc.) the annex buildings and the property they're on behind the armory could accommodate two or three public schools. It was a major priority for the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition until the Department of Education poured cold water on the ideas more than a year ago.
The RFP (request for proposals) didn't include the annex buildings behind the armory because the Guard still occupied them. But it seems like the Guard may have a new home in Wakefield. Schools at the Armory may happen after all -- but probably only if KARA brings as much heat to this issue as they have to the living wage.
We'll be there tonight. So will peace activist Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame -- who Community Board 7 has enlisted to attend. Stay tuned. We'll have frequent updates on the blog in the coming days and weeks.