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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Handicapping The Armory Hearing

The Bronx News Network will be in attendance tonight at the Bronx Library Center when Community Board 7 votes on whether or not to support the Related Companies plan to turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a giant mall. Here's a guide to all our latest Armory coverage.

If last week's Board 7 land use committee meeting was any indication, it looks like the board will vote in favor of the project, which will disappoint a lot of people in the community, most notably the Kingsbridge Armory Redevelopment Alliance (KARA) and the Kingsbridge Heights-based supermarket chain Morton Williams.

Last Tuesday, the land use committee voted unanimously (there were only three voting committee members) to recommend the project be approved when the whole board votes on the project tonight. They are, however, going to add a 10-point caveat to their position. So, they will essentially say: We will vote yes on this project, but only if x, y and z occurs. Those points include the signing of a binding Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), free wi-fi, more community space, the inclusion of a World Peace Atrium and the creation of community advisory group for the duration of the Armory's redevelopment.

Only Board 7 members were allowed to speak at the meeting. This enraged Avi Kaner, a part owner of Morton Williams, who said he was promised a chance to make his case at the hearing. Kaner and Morton Williams want the board to vote no on the project unless Related agrees to stick to its original proposal.

"Why was I lied to?" Kaner asked angrily as he filed out of the meeting with about 15 Morton Williams employees and supporters.

Related's latest proposal now includes a 60,000-square-foot supermarket that Kaner says will force the chain to shutter its two Bronx stores. Related says it included the supermarket idea based on feedback from Board 7 members. In an interview two weeks ago, Morton Williams owner Morty Sloan said Board members who supported an Armory supermarket probably didn't understand what a supermarket of that size would do to Morton Williams and its hundreds of Bronx employees.

Board member John Harris said he wanted to see a supermarket that offered organic food. "It's not about competition, it's about options," he said.

Kaner gave us a copy of the speech he wanted to give. In it, he said, "Our employees and we are intergral parts of the community. We are your neighbors. Related is not."

KARA representatives have also lobbied heavily to have Board members vote no on the project because a benefits agreement has yet to be signed. About 10 KARA reps were at last week's meeting. Wendoly Marte, a young local community activist, said she didn't understand Board 7's reasoning behind the Board plans to vote yes with conditions. "Their rational makes absolutely no sense."

Added Desire Pilgrim-Hunter, who lives nearby in Fordham Hill: “If they [CB7] are really advocates for the community, why are they ignoring what the community is asking them to do, which is to vote no” until Related signs a binding and substantial CBA. “We can see [by this vote] that the community board is going to vote yes to this developer.”

Board 7 Chairman Greg Faulkner said he thinks the Board should vote yes with conditions so they can maintain leverage in the continuing benefits agreement negotiations. He thinks it would be easier for Related to ignore the Board's wishes if it votes no.
After the Board votes, the project goes to the Bronx Borough President's office, then to City Planning and then on to the City Council.
We'll have more coverage of tonight's vote tomorrow.
-Reporting by James Fergusson


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