Community Board 8’s land use committee has lost its rock.
Longtime chair Charles Moerdler abruptly stepped down from the position April 10 during a regular CB8 board meeting at the Fort Independence Community Center.
“Over the past couple of years, we’ve been increasingly misdirecting our energies, our political capital, and our credibility in simply venting frustrations and tilting at windmills,” Moerdler said, “contrasted with prioritizing our concerns and focusing on the changing of things we can change, and preserving those things that are important.”
In other words, CB8’s focus has been centered on things that can’t be fixed, rather than things that can. And that approach clashes with Moerdler’s course of trying to make a difference within the bounds of what they can actually achieve.
“It’s got to stop,” Moerdler said. “I’ve been saying it for a while, and it just goes in one ear and out the other. We owe a duty to this community to achieve for them, and if all we’re doing is voting something that we know is going to have no effect at all — no positive effect — we’ll get into trouble.”
But Moerdler isn’t saying such tactics are endemic across CB8, and he’s quick to emphasize he’s not criticizing any particular board member. In fact, Moerdler lauded traffic and transportation committee chair Dan Padernacht’s efforts opposing tearing through a cinderblock wall on Netherland Avenue between West 254th and West 256th streets to make way for a pedestrian path — one idea among several from a 2017 streetscape report the North Riverdale Merchant and Business Association urged the city’s transportation department to study — and one that residents of surrounding apartment complexes vehemently opposed.
When the resolution passed the full board by a narrow vote, Moerdler said, he went further, making the case to city transportation department commissioner Polly Trottenberg to leave the wall alone. And still, it stands.
It’s efforts like those — ones that “help the people,” Moerdler said — the board should be focusing on more.
Moerdler uttered his resignation amidst a fiery debate over how the board should handle alleged code violations from renovation work at the Spuyten Duyvil home of meat wholesaler Pat LaFrieda at 3061 Scenic Place.
While Moerdler supported retroactively approving the work and dealing with the act of violating the codes later, ultimately the board took a different route, not supporting the retroactive approval unless it came with penalties for violating code in the Special Natural Area District.
CB8 chair Rosemary Ginty disagreed with Moerdler on grounds it could set a dangerous precedent tempting others to violate city code.
“It was the owner’s responsibility to make sure that the work was done correctly,” Ginty said.
But simply approving or defeating a resolution alone is not enough, Moerdler said after the meeting. The work at 3061 Scenic Place is already underway or done — move forward from it, but take action to stop it in the future.
“Go ahead and get the members of the (city) council and you draft legislation to say in the future, when somebody violates the law, here is the penalty, so that there is an opportunity to assess a penalty,” Moerdler said. “Then you’re doing something constructive.”
Many have never seen a land use committee in this part of the Bronx without Moerdler at the helm, and it’s not going to be easy to adjust without him.
“I was as surprised as anybody, and I’m sorry that Moerdler” resigned, Ginty said. “He’s not like an institution. He is an institution. He has so many years of working in this community, so many years of giving great service. I’m optimistic that he will find a way back. And I truly hope he does.”
Moerdler’s resignation comes at a time when CB8 is facing a range of vital issues, he said, including improving the city’s addled public transportation system and health care.
“What have we done?” Moerdler asked. “Has the board put together a plan for better bus service? Yes and no. Have we tried to figure out how best to provide health care for this community? Instead of doing things where we cannot hope to change the outcome, if we focus our attention on where we can achieve a result, you have a better shot of achieving something.”
Yet, that’s not to say he’ll never reclaim his position as land use chair, and he’s confident he has allies. But if he were to return, there’s one very important person that would have to clear it first.
“I believe that each of the elected officials is prepared to do his part to help us get back on what I believe to be an important track,” Moerdler said. “And they have said to me, if I will go back, they will work with me to get us back on that track, and so have members of the board.
“And I’m going to consider that,” he added, “after talking to my wife.”