Vol. 17, No. 9 April 22 - May 5, 2004


Community Presses to make Use of Open Spaces


Two North Fordham open spaces that have been notoriously resistant to change are starting to finally give way to community action. Here's an update:

Working for Play Area on Oliver Place

Residents are hopeful that this longtime community eyesore, located between Marion and Decatur avenues, will finally get the attention it deserves this year. "I'm feeling very optimistic," said Rafeek Khan, a leader at the Masjid-Hefaz Mosque on East 198th Street, which has been working on transforming the hilly street into a park.

Khan, who is also a member of Community Board 7, and other members of the Bedford Park Neighborhood Alliance, are in the process of setting up a meeting with the borough president's office, which has expressed interest in helping, according to Khan. "We've gotten some positive news from that office," he said. "They promised that they are going to work with us to continue in the best and fastest way."

While the Parks Department has assisted in the maintenance of Oliver Place, the Department of Transportation (DOT) still has jurisdiction over the street. Advocates need to convince DOT to transfer ownership of the property to Parks through a six-month land use review process --  the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP).

But by the looks of Oliver Place, no city agency is doing its part to keep it clean. A fence has done little to deter the large mound of garbage beyond it -- including, on a recent visit, two children's scooters, a baby stroller and a shopping cart. There are also several overgrown trees.

About two months ago, staffers at the borough president's office said they would like to help iron out the logistics of the transfer, according to Khan. Once it becomes a park, residents are hoping to build a play area, and add benches and greenery. Meanwhile, Khan is looking to hold another Oliver Place cleanup by May.

While Khan is hopeful that progress might be made this year, the issue has been a stumbling block for years. "So many groups have tried to work on this," he said. "It would really be an achievement in this neighborhood if it got done."

Ed. Note: To find out when the Oliver Place cleanup will be held, call the Alliance at (718) 563-0740.

Progress on Mystery Streets

A community organization reports that progress is finally being made in the decades-long struggle to make two North Fordham streets --  Poe Place and Coles Lane --  more inviting. Plans to renovate the streets, which dead-end off Bainbridge Avenue near Fordham Road, are now being formulated by the Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation (FBHC).

Movement on the project first started last summer, when a new Bronx Department of Transportation (DOT) commissioner came on board. Since Joe Palmieri took over for former commissioner Connie Moran, the city has paved the streets and fixed the steps. Rosanna Viera, an FBHC staffer, says that Palmieri is looking to conduct more work there. "We got a verbal commitment from the commissioner to fix the curb between Coles Lane and Poe Place," which has long been in disrepair, Viera said.

The streets are an unusual phenomenon. While cars can drive on them, neither have street signs nor an apparent owner. While advocates searched for the owner, as did the city, no official documents or parties could ever be found.

But the DOT has moved forward on the project anyway, and the space is looking better --  and feeling safer --  than in the past, according to Josˇ Hernandez, a mechanic who fixes cars on the streets. "The grass used to be taller, so junkies would just pick a corner," Hernandez said.

Hernandez watched as the Sanitation Department hauled two and a half dumpster loads of junk out of the space last year, and put up barbed wire fencing to close off a portion of the dead end. Residents have continued to call the city when this grassy open space needs cleaning, and now all that remains is one Christmas-type tree in the center.

FBHC is looking to make further improvements in conjunction with the City College Architecture Center. The Center --  which specializes in working with groups on urban planning --  is finalizing designs to make the space handicapped accessible, and add planters and other greenery.

They are also looking to coordinate the design with the look of the new Bronx Borough Library Center, which is scheduled for completion at the end of 2005. The library will have glass walls that look out onto Coles Lane and Poe Place, and FBHC is trying to tailor their design to the library's exterior look. They also don't want to block the library's view with their plantings.

Viera has been circulating the plans to residents and officials, including Palmieri, Assemblyman Jose Rivera, Community Board 7 members, and library staff. They are still trying to get more details in the plans so DOT can estimate the total costs, and are hoping for pre-development money from officials.

"We presented it to Jose Rivera last November and he promised funding," Viera said. DOT spokesperson Keith Kalb said that the city is waiting for FBHC to flush out their designs more fully before acting. "It's in the infancy stage," said Kalb about the project. "We haven't finalized any plans yet."

But when asked if DOT intended to develop the streets, Kalb responded with a resounding "yes."

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