Builder takes over disputed Cannon Place lot

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http://www.riverdalepress.com/stories/Builder-takes-over-disputed-Cannon-Place-lot,56540?page=3&

The Stagg Group has purchased the lot at 3469 Cannon Place and plans to begin construction on a 100-unit apartment complex “in about six months,” according to a spokesman for the company.

Adolfo Carrión, the former Bronx Borough President and current advisor to the developer, said that the project near Fort Independence Park will be “a conventional deal” similar to other projects his company has slated for the Bronx. Those include a new apartment building on Broadway that has drawn scrutiny from Community Board 8.

People who live near 3469 Cannon Place say they already fear the worst from a developer whose mixed reputation in the borough has preceded it.

“Neighborhoods need to have a say in how they’re developed,” said Kristin Hart, the president of the Fort Independence Park Neighborhood Association (FIPNA). “Stagg just doesn’t have a record of allowing those voices into the conversation.”

Ms. Hart said FIPNA objected to the development on three main grounds, the first being safety. A 2011 report commissioned by a developer who sought to build on 3469 Cannon Place several years ago said that “blasting may be required” to splinter rock at the site, putting at risk the integrity of the foundation of at least one building adjacent to the lot.

FIPNA’s second objection stems from what it deems a mismatch in development. A large, 100-unit apartment building has no place in the neighborhood of small homes, Ms. Hart said. She added that the project would worsen residents’ current problems with traffic and parking.

Finally, activists said that the developer was proceeding with a less than charitable definition of affordable housing.

Ms. Hart described her disappointment upon discovering that so-called affordable apartments at other Stagg developments like Bedford Park Manor were only marginally cheaper than the same rooms available at the market rate.

Stagg’s proposed mix of 80 percent market-rate and 20 percent affordable apartments at the site makes it eligible for the city’s 421a program, which gives tax abatements if 20 percent of the units in a building are set aside for lower income tenants. Stagg, like other developers, has been attacked for allegedly exploiting the exemption and failing to deliver on its promises at other properties.

Charles Moerdler, the chair of CB 8’s Land Use Committee, noted that the 421a program is set to expire in June. It is unclear whether the law will be renewed. Because Stagg will not begin construction at the site for at least six months, it may have to contend with a new and potentially stricter version of the law in order to collect its tax break.

Mr. Moerdler said his biggest problem with Stagg is that it “does not make any significant effort to work with community boards.”

He cited a June invitation to appear before the Land Use Committee that the developer ignored. Later, a Stagg representative asked for permission to begin construction on its 6155 Broadway project earlier on Saturdays. CB 8 denied the request.

Asked how Stagg interpreted the opposition from the community board and area residents, Mr. Carrión flatly denied any knowledge of it.

“I’m not aware of any opposition to our developments,” he said. “We’re just excited about the new site. Of course, we’ll schedule some visits and get out to the CBs when it’s warranted.”

Mr. Moerdler said Stagg’s latest acquisition has already been slated for discussion at the Land Use Committee’s next meeting, on Monday, March 30.

Stagg purchased the site from Jackson Development Group in December, according to city Department of Finance records made public in February. Jackson’s plans to build affordable housing at the site faltered when the Department of Buildings (DOB) imposed a moratorium on construction until a retaining wall was completed to enhance the structural integrity of the site.

With the retaining wall apparently near completion, construction could begin soon with the appropriate permits. But according to Ms. Hart, contractors are already present and working at the site.

A search for building permits turned up no results, in a finding that was corroborated by a DOB spokesman.

Mr. Carrión said the contractors were conducting soil excavation to produce their own report of the site’s risks and foundational integrity. According to the DOB’s administrative code for geotechnical investigations, soil borings can be completed at a site without a DOB permit.

Ms. Hart insisted that the community knows best about 3469 Cannon Place.

“FIPNA and the community board are interested in the long-term health of the neighborhood,” she said. “If we don’t think the building belongs here, we’re probably right.”

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