Armory Hearing Postponed to Nov.
A long-awaited City Council hearing on the Kingsbridge Armory, scheduled for Oct. 26 after being rescheduled at least once before, has been postponed again until Nov. 14. The hearing, called by Councilman Adolfo Carrion, a member of the Economic Development Committee, was postponed at the request of Councilwoman June Eisland, who chairs the Council's Land Use Committee, so the two committees could hold a joint hearing.
"She thought it would be good to start land use discussions earlier [rather] than later," Carrion said of Eisland, who represents Riverdale, Norwood and Bedford Park. "To me, we have some serious economic development issues. I sit on that committee as well as the Land Use Committee and I guess it doesn't really hurt the process if we begin the land use discussion now."
Last January, in his State of the City speech, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani unveiled a plan that would turn the armory into a retail and athletic complex and would include a multiplex movie theatre. That plan clashed with community wishes to see the armory relieve the area's severely overcrowded schools. One community organization - the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition - even drafted its own proposal and preliminary architectural plans with the help of urban planning experts at Pratt Institute. That plan calls for three schools within the armory, two in its massive drill hall and one in the so-called "head house" that faces Kingsbridge Road. It also contained provisions for some retail space, a community theatre, an ice-skating rink and athletic space. The mayor has ridiculed the idea, though it is now supported by an array of officials including Randi Weingarten, president of the teachers' union, and Congressman Eliot Engel.
Carrion, whose district includes the armory, said the purpose of the hearing was to force a public debate on an issue that has yet to have one.
"We need to put these questions out there and force the discussion," he said. "Too many times in the city's history we've gotten a plan to rezone and no real public participatory process, other than the regulatory process. During the ULURP people will raise those questions, but that's late in the process. We need to come to terms with some of those realities right now and tease them out."
ULURP, which stands for Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, is the process by which a land use proposal using city property must be reviewed and approved by various levels of city government. But if the mayor's proposal reaches that stage, it may be too late to alter the plan significantly.
Large questions about the feasibility of the mayor's plan - whether a large retail complex will hurt the commercial districts on Kingsbridge Road and Fordham Road, and whether there are enough potential customers to allow the mayor's plan to succeed - have not yet been studied or discussed publicly. Carrion said the hearing is meant to address these matters.
"It's better that we deal with these issues than find ourselves 10 years from now with vacant stores on Fordham Road and in the armory because they killed each other," Carrion said. "This is the process of begging the questions."
Carrion supports the construction of at least one school within the armory. Eisland, according to her spokesman, Joe Sweeney, wants schools in the armory "if it can be done," but wants at least two schools in the area regardless.
Carrion thinks the community can have both. "I also think that outside the envelope of the building, we should not as a community back down from our demand from an additional two schools," he said.
"What I'm hoping to do is agitate the discussion on this matter and just move people off the dime," Carrion said. "We've got to solve this armory challenge and we're not going to solve it hiding behind closed doors."
Those doors will be open to the public at the joint hearing on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 11 a.m. in City Hall.
For more information, call Carrion's office at 584-6955 or Eisland's at 549-0158.
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