Nos Quedamos and their planning team developed 8 major goals that would inform the proposed plan for Melrose Commons.
1. The plan should cause no involuntary displacement of the existing community.
Under the initial development plan proposed by the City of New York a substantial portion of the existing community was going to be bulldozed to make room for new development. The City's goal was to maximize the size of the development sites. Nos Quedamos approached the plan from the perspective that the basic building block for redevelopment is not the physical structures but rather the people who live and do business within the community. The commitment to this community shown by the people who have survived the devastation is the strength on which to rebuild.
Although no displacement is a guiding principle in the development of the plan, the community understood that some displacement would occur. The goal was to minimize such displacement, to decide intelligently for it where it had to occur, and to resolve conflicts resulting from these decisions. For example, a property owner might agree to sell a residential building to the City for demolition and the tenants of that building might wish to stay. The community decided that if displacement had to occur, the right to reside within the community remained paramount - relocation had to be provided for within the Melrose Commons community. By the fact of their residency, the time spent and investments (both social and physical) made, the people of Melrose have acquired tenure (equity) within their community. As development occurs, residents would use this equity to assist them in acquiring replacement residential or commercial space.
The following principles were articulated by Nos Quedamos:
HOMEOWNERS: Guarantee the right to reside in one's own home, and where not possible, then within the community and, in any case, without economic penalty and the opportunity to benefit from the resources made available for revitalization.
TENANTS: Guarantee the right to reside in one's own home, and where not possible, then within the community and, in any case, without economic penalty and the opportunity to benefit from the resources made available for revitalization.
BUSINESSES - WHICH OWN: Based upon the overall redevelopment plan, to allow for businesses to remain, or, to be relocated at the same location, as near as possible to the original location, or within an adjoining area; to provide financial assistance to whichever approach is settled on; to allow valuation of business to include such factors as:
• type of business
• customer base
• locational importance
• growth capabilities
BUSINESSES - WHICH RENT: Same as Businesses which own, except for those valuation components of the business which are specific to property ownership.
The ultimate plans for the City-owned buildings also needed to be addressed by the urban renewal plan. These buildings came into the City's portfolio because they were abandoned by their previous owners. The City's policy is to return these buildings to private ownership as rental buildings or tenant cooperatives. The tenants of these buildings have a right to reside within the community and need to be involved in the decisions concerning the present and future status of their homes. These buildings are a resource to those people who reside in them and to the community; they are not only a source of affordable housing, but also provide a visual and historical richness to Melrose Commons.
2. The plan should permit a mixed income community to develop and create a variety of ownership and rental housing.
A mixed use community will foster a pedestrian oriented environment with access to jobs, recreation, and educational opportunities. The revised plan calls for the creation of 1700 units of housing that are woven into the fabric of the existing community. With the acceptance of the "no displacement" principle, the number of existing buildings that will remain has increased, creating smaller and more fragmented development sites and reducing the number of new units. The new buildings to be created will be varied, including buildings of different scales and different types, from home ownership to supportive housing.
In order for the physical environment to have the ability to care for its inhabitants and provide for their upward mobility, a range of occupancy types must be created that will allow a mixed income neighborhood to develop. However, affordability is a primary issue in the development of the new housing and has to address the fact that the median income in this area is under $12,000 a year. The housing types will include:
• home ownership, condominium/cooperatives, and rental housing to permit a greater flexibility;
• senior housing and other forms of supportive housing with appropriate facilities, such as day care, health care, social services;
• appropriate disposition of existing city-owned buildings by involving the tenants in the decision making process;
• renovation of existing privately-owned buildings, as appropriate.
The primary building form being created in
Melrose Commons is residential. The new residential buildings will incorporate both commercial and community facilities. The preferred building material is concrete and masonry. Building design should maximize natural light and cross ventilation. The building forms should lend themselves to the creation of small mid-block parks and community gardens.
3. The plan must provide affordable housing at densities appropriate to an urban community.
The development of an appropriate density, a minimum of 60 to 80 units per acre, is a major goal to the Melrose community. Density means establishing a critical residential mass that will encourage commercial and institutional uses to locate here.
The New York City zoning regulations call for a required off-street parking ratio of.5, that is, 1 car for every 2 units of housing. However, subsidies for affordable housing development do not permit the construction of parking garages. This means that the plan must provide for a required surface parking capacity for 850 vehicles. This will consume large expanses of land and decrease the number of dwelling units that can be developed on a given site. (The parking requirement mandates locating the parking on the same site as the new residential development.) Therefore, when a given piece of land could support a larger number of dwelling units, the dwelling unit count must be reduced to support the reality of surface parking. The community objected to this ratio and argued to lower it. Community members wanted more dwelling units and improved mass transit service. The City agreed to reduce the parking ratio to.4 for sites with elevator apartment buildings. The community was not a satisfied with this compromise and will continue to work to reduce the amount of required parking.
4. The plan should utilize architectural design guidelines that maximize the public investment by creating a visually desirable, urban environment that will encourage development.
Ensuring the quality of the new buildings in Melrose Commons is of paramount concern to the community. Buildings that are well built, with a minimum 50-year life cycle, will maximize the public and private investments being made in the area. The materials used, such as as masonry, should be appropriate to an urban area, environmentally sensitive, and durable. Building orientation should maximize natural light, solar access and natural ventilation.
Architecture and urban design must also be responsive to the social context. Architectural quality is not only established by massing, materials, light and shadow but also by understanding the cultural diversity of urban communities. The cultural perspective that the residents bring to their neighborhoods, the history of the various people and communities that have lived there before, the remaining architecture and place names that are valued, both inform the "sense of place" of the neighborhood and enable its connection to the greater community. Design quality should also be able to transcend the past and present, however, as an urban community substantially changes every generation or two.
5. The plan should promote physical development that is both environmentally conscious and sustainable.
The flow of energy, water and other materials through our communities describes the pattern around which their ecology is shaped. The configuration of these systems, from waste water treatment to storm drains to municipal solid waste disposal have become increasingly costly. Since the costs of moving stormwater off the land depend on how much street and pipe construction is necessary to move the water from the City into surrounding bodies of water, capturing the stormwater as close as possible to where the runoff gathers can be the most inexpensive treatment. By treating the water in "wetlands"(in the case of Melrose Commons, the northern boundary greenbelt could incorporate a series of ponds that would accomplish this) to remove hydrocarbons, nitrates, suspended solids and other pollutants it is possible to generate clean water. An innovative stormwater retention system that can service a complex of buildings and/or blocks can reduce costs to the city's infrastructure system.
Recycling is also an important element in physical sustainable design. This would include controlled demolition and renovation of the existing structures, not only to minimize the release of toxins - such as asbestos and lead - but also to reuse materials when and if possible. In addition designated recycling areas must be incorporated in the design of the new buildings. Recycling also includes composting of organic garbage. Compost from food and yard waste could be used for plantings in the community. The waste heat from the composting process could be used to assist in the heating of domestic water, allowing a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.
Urban communities because of their higher densities of residential and commercial development and access to public transportation facilities, can foster a reduction in automobile use and promote a pedestrian oriented environment. Such objectives can be achieved through the construction of bicycle lanes, greenways, mixed use buildings with ground floor commercial spaces and the design of streets that relate to the scale and sense of place and neighborhood. Lighting, tree planting, bus shelters, street furniture as well as the "infrastructure of daily life" i.e., ATMs, public telephones, mailboxes must be part of the landscape of the community. An examination of the current levels of bus service, routes and stops is necessary. Many residents believe the current level of bus service is inadequate and will not properly serve the developing community.
6. The proposed open space should be distributed into a system that responds to the community's concerns of program and security.
The development of the open space responds to the community's concerns regarding security and program. Large spaces need to be visible from the sidewalk across their length and width, and located so that pedestrian traffic and building development provide an "eyes on" environment. Where possible these spaces should be related to existing or planned institutional use such as public schools and be programmed for other community uses such as after-school centers and community gardens. Smaller spaces, developed as children's playgrounds and community gardens, should occur in mid-block locations and be formed by the residential buildings, with windows oriented towards them.
Some of the new open spaces include a new 40,000 square foot passive park along Melrose Avenue; the pedestrian oriented "Town Center" - a paved civic open space that would include a college, planning center, community facility, athletic facility, and commercial activity; and the northern boundary park. This park would form a buffer between Melrose Commons and the industrial area to the north and would be a new active green space connecting the existing park at East 161st Street to the Town Center at O'Neal Square.
The existing vacant land inventory must be managed. Interim uses for these parcels should serve some public purpose such as community gardens and playing fields. However an interim land use policy must be properly managed with a community understanding of long range planning goals.
7. The plan should respect the street pattern and movement patterns within the community.
Crosstown traffic in the Bronx is complicated by the topography of the Borough with its series of steep ridges and valleys. In Melrose Commons crosstown movement is made possible along the 161st/163rd Street corridor. These two streets, oriented to the city street grid are connected by a diagonal street that fronts O'Neal Square, the western boundary of the proposed "Town Center". Under the City's original urban renewal proposal, this diagonal street was to be eliminated in order to create a grided system of streets ("more orderly" in words of the transportation planners). This action would have removed a seamless flow of east /west traffic, creating a series of intersections, additional traffic lights, right/left turns, and confusion. The community argued strenuously against this idea, pointing out that an unconfusing flow of crosstown traffic was important for Borough development, communication and movement between this community and others. Moreover, an increase in intersections would disrupt existing commercial development and result in greater congestion and air pollution from idling automobiles. The Commissioner of Transportation, hearing the dispute between the planners and the community, visited Melrose, toured the area and watched the traffic flow. He agreed with the community's conclusion and enabled the urban renewal plan to develop around this important pathway.
Melrose Commons is bordered on its north end by a railroad yard (in a cut 30 feet below street level) and an industrial zone. As mentioned above, this border should be "greened" with recreational space. Doing so would enable the creation of a crescent street, connecting Courtlandt Avenue with Elton Avenue This crescent street would enable the development of housing with "eyes on the park". The new crescent street would be bisected by Melrose Avenue and would give a unique sense of entrance to the community from Melrose Avenue. Melrose Avenue, the 'main street' of Melrose Commons is serviced by mass transportation connecting this community with the North Bronx.
8. The plan should provide for an appropriate distribution of commercial space and services and enable community residents and businesses to increase their earnings potential and expand their economic opportunities.
There is a hierarchy to the commercial activity in Melrose Commons. Third Avenue and East 161st Street are regional streets that are served by a variety of mass transportation systems. The commercial uses they can support are quite broad and they are easily accessible to people from outside this community. The commercial uses for Melrose Avenue, on the other hand are local and need to respond more specifically to the surrounding residential community.
The community agreed that existing businesses should also fall within the no displacement principle because they provide jobs and important services to community residents. For those businesses that the community judged to be problematic in their current location, relocation to an appropriate area within the community or to the adjacent industrial park was held to be an important objective.
Development must also include the provision of critical basic services, such as retail activities, banking, medical, educational, cultural and social services. In order to permit Melrose to become both sustaining and nurturing to its inhabitants, community services are considered to be an essential component of the plan. These improvements will also create jobs and business opportunities for community residents. Services which are currently unavailable in Melrose Commons include primary health care, senior center/adult day health care, a public library, recycling center, and a 40th/42nd Precinct police sub-station. Services which currently exist but will need either relocation and/or expansion include an after school center, day care and the post office.
The Melrose Commons Urban Renewal Plan must also enable community residents and businesses to increase their earnings potential and expand their economic opportunities. Economic development must be anchored on the existing strengths and successes that community residents, businesses and institutions have achieved.
Existing businesses and merchants should have the opportunity to become suppliers of materials and services for the new development and renovation work. Every new private and public development and expansion of existing activity should include jobs and job training for community residents. Community residents and businesses must also have the chance to participate as entrepreneurs and investors and to have access to investment capital.
The value of having local preference for hiring, vending, job training and relocation will enable the public investments being made in Melrose Commons to capitalize on and extend the present strengths within the community (both structural and social) and maximize this public dollar investment by turning those dollars around in the community creating additional economic and growth stimulus.
Provide the means (through advance training and labor exchanges) and the real opportunity (through government mandate) for preferences for local hiring, for construction and permanent jobs starting with the pool of available labor from the Bronx Center (and immediate) area, the Bronx, the City, and then, non-City residents.
Development should complement the existing infrastructure and the community's regional location and provide for future growth and evolution.
Melrose Commons has the opportunity to develop the connections it has to resources outside of the immediate community, and to the role it will play as the outside community begins to take advantage of the resources within it. Three examples of this are as follows:
East 161st Street MetroNorth station
The MetroNorth station, with its current entrance at 162nd Street and Park Avenue, is an underutilized resource. This station connects Melrose Commons to Westchester County, Connecticut, and midtown Manhattan. The station provides access for the community to a larger job market as well as the educational, cultural and recreational activities in the region. It is also the closest mass transit connection for people from Westchester and Connecticut to Yankee Stadium, the courts and the county building. However, the current entrance to the station is in an inappropriate location. East 161st Street is a major crosstown street linking Melrose Commons with the courts, the Concourse Plaza Mall, the County Building, subway lines and Yankee Stadium. The station entrance needs to be shifted to East 161st Street, made visible and handicapped accessible.
Third/Washington/Elton Avenues, East 159th Street to East 163rd Street.
This area has been identified by the community as its latent civic heart. The bordering streets, Third Avenue and East 161st Street/East 163rd Street, are the regional North/South and East/West connectors, served by mass transit and providing access to the rest of the borough. The two abandoned courthouses located here are to be rehabilitated with new civic, community, educational and cultural uses. The former YMCA (currently utilized by New York State as a correctional facility), which contains a swimming pool, running track, and playing surfaces, at East 161st Street and Washington Avenue should also be returned to community use. The closing of Brook Avenue and East 162nd Street to vehicular traffic will provide sufficient land mass to create a pedestrian mall and plaza off of which new community, educational, cultural and entertainment activities could occur. Due to its accessibility, the public nature of its planned uses, and its separation from the residential sections of Melrose Commons, this area would be the ideal space to develop nighttime activities including dining and cultural entertainment as well as open-air activities such as an outdoor performance space and a green market.