Councilman blasts city’s Southern Boulevard redevelopment plan

The area on Southern Boulevard that the city wants to develop.

City Councilman Rafael Salamanca Jr. is taking a hard line against the mayor’s push to develop a 130-block area on and around Southern Boulevard, warning that the plan would lead to the displacement of South Bronx residents.

Prompted by findings reached in a scathing report by a Brooklyn grassroots group, the fourth-year councilman cautioned in a Jan. 15 press release that “Neighborhood rezonings are directly responsible for displacing thousands of residents of color in primarily low-income communities.”

The December 2019 report by Churches United for Fair Housing, called Zoning & Racialized Displacement in NYC, analyzes the effects of the city’s 2004 waterfront zoning plans in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, as well as its 2003 Park Slope/4th Avenue rezoning, on black and Latinx residents. The report concludes that the north Brooklyn rezoning led to the displacement of 15,000 Latino residents between 2000 and 2015, despite an increase in total population of 20,000 residents in those neighborhoods.

Salamanca, who heads the council’s Land Use Committee, is co-sponsoring legislation with Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, requiring that racial impact analyses be conducted to accompany any rezoning.

Over the last three years Salamanca has taken part in public forums that the City Planning department had organized in neighborhoods he represents in the council, from Longwood north to Crotona Park, all of which are part of the Southern Boulevard plan. 

“As I spoke with my constituents, a very real fear – now confirmed by the (Churches United) report – kept coming up: A neighborhood rezoning would accelerate rising rents, price out residents and displace them from the very community they’ve helped build,” he said, adding that “while these may have been unintended consequences of the rezoning, this report brings to light a serious flaw in our land use process.”

“I have seen the negative aspect of how irresponsible development can lead to the gentrification of entire communities, displacing thousands of low-income Black and Latino families and seniors who make up the very bedrock of that which makes New York City who we are.”

Officials from the planning department have responded to concerns about rezoning from members of Bronx Community Board 2, saying that any rezoning along Southern Boulevard would be minor. At a January 2017 meeting of Board 2 with Hunts Point and Longwood residents, the director of the Bronx’s planning office, Carol Samol, told skeptics that rezoning would be “surgical,” and guided by local consensus.

Salamanca says that he has “downzoned” parts of the 15th council district to protect smaller residential buildings from the wrecking ball, just as the city has called for “upzoning” major transportation corridors in the South Bronx and elsewhere to allow for taller buildings. The city’s upzoning policy, he says, “could trigger a rush of developers looking to purchase land and build thousands of unregulated units along Southern Boulevard, Westchester Avenue and the Bronx River.”