by DANIEL BEEKMAN
Cruise down Webster Avenue. Survey the strip. Buy a muffler, a mattress, a pool cue, plumbing supplies. Do it now, because Webster is about to change.
On Thursday, March 5, at a Community Board 7 town hall meeting, city planners asked neighbors for feedback on a rezone plan designed to grow Webster and preserve housing stock nearby.
“This rezone will shift residential and commercial development from Norwood and Bedford Park onto Webster,” said Richard Guether, the plan’s chief architect and a Bronx office city planner.
Webster is currently zoned for light industrial business. The rezone – only just proposed – would establish a high-density residential district between E. 205th Street and E. 182nd Street, with a commercial overlay. Think mid-rise apartment buildings with stores on the bottom floor.
The rezone would also establish commercial districts on Webster from E. 205th Street past Gun Hill Road, and from Bedford Park Boulevard to E. 196th Street. The commercial districts could accommodate office buildings.
Webster would retain many of its auto shops; the rezone wouldn’t force existing light industrial businesses out. After a 4-5 month environmental review and impact study, the plan will enter the city’s 6-7 month land-use review.
“I’m happy,” CB7 chair Greg Faulkner said. “We should have done this 30 years ago. This is going to transform the area.”
West of Webster, in the neighborhoods of Norwood and Bedford Park, the plan would downzone 20 pockets of low-density housing. The goal: prevent one and two-family home teardowns. On March 5, Guether clicked through slides of stately Victorian homes.
“These are impressive homes,” Guether said. “Homes are worth preserving.”
While Norwood and Bedford Park are currently zoned for residential development, no height limit exists. The plan would allow new eight-story buildings on select blocks, provided they include parking for one in two units.
A number of Norwood and Bedford Park residents believe development on Webster could compound the neighborhood’s parking problem.
Council majority leader Joel Rivera, who attended the March 5 meeting, empathized. Rivera has a solution.
“Municipal parking lots,” he said. “We could set up a residential pricing program.”
Al Hiller, a property owner and Webster merchant, isn’t concerned. Hiller called the proposed rezone “phenomenal.”
“This will beautify Webster,” he said. “All these people worried about parking need to understand. More traffic means more business. More business means more money.”
The city will encourage residential developers to build affordable units in partnership with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development.
“We’re running out of city-owned land,” said HPD planner Ted Weinstein said. “We’re looking for creative ways to gain affordable housing. One option is rezoning.”
CB7 member Barbara Stronczer has adopted a wait-and-see attitude.
“Beyond rezoning, will the city support development on Webster?” Stronczer asked. “When the 3rd Avenue el came down, that was supposed to revive Webster. The only thing we saw was more sun.”