Van Cortlandt Park spreads over 1,000 acres of land. North of the New York City park reaches parts of Yonkers. A proposed state-of-the-art, 16-story affordable housing building named The Parker may soon become part of a border war between the two municipalities. All in the name of birds.
The state education department reports there are more than 240 species of birds that breed in the state and more than 450 different bird species that spend part of the year here.
During the changing seasons, millions of birds migrate through New York City, and their journey leads them to South and Central America to breeding grounds as far as the Arctic Circle.
“We can have birds moving over Riverdale or Westchester or Manhattan, we have this blanket of birds in migration that just moved through — sometimes in the hundreds of thousands will migrate over New York City and the whole area.” said Dustin Partridge, director of conservation and science at New York City Audubon.
But as they go on this journey, new threats emerge for them — glass windows and artificial nighttime lighting.
Sometimes, birds fly into transparent windows and even walls when trees and other greenery are reflected from the glass windows.
New York City Audubon estimates that between 90,000 and 120,000 birds die annually.
NYC Audubon launched an online crowd source database called dBird to monitor injured or dead birds reported by the public.
“Looking at the drawing of the proposed building looks like there’s going to be a fair amount of glass,” Partridge said.
But what’s tricky here is New York City implemented Local Law 15 in 2020, which requires all new buildings to have bird-safe glass installed. It was the most comprehensive bird-building legislation in the U.S., requiring significant renovations beginning January 2021. However, this is Yonkers, footsteps from New York City, where most collisions could happen as low as 75 feet.
The façade design of the proposed Parker building will be the strongest driver of collisions.
The applicant — MacQuesten Development LLC — proposes The Parker to contain 160 rental units for the 166.5-foot-high affordable housing building.
Rent will range from $1,140 for studios all the way up to almost $3,000 for larger units.
On Monday, April 24, SESI Consulting Engineers prepared a letter for the Yonkers Planning Board regarding the danger of migrating birds.
“Though the development will border Van Cortlandt Park, it is not anticipated that the development would impact the natural fauna, including the surrounding avian populations,” wrote Franz Laki, SESI principal.
In the letter Laki sourced Cornell Lab when describing the height of which migrating birds fly. It is relatively low — under 500 feet — but the lab notes the average flight height of autumn migratory birds in New York is approximately 1,300 to 1,600 feet.
Partridge told The Riverdale Press migration birds fly huge distances and when the sun comes up they need to be able to land and find food again to continue their journey.
Spaces in Van Cortlandt Park are great examples of feeding grounds for birds. But birds don’t know the difference between Yonkers and the Bronx.
He recommends turning off artificial light during nighttime or when the sun goes down. Other options are covering a window with a small film barely noticeable to the human eye.
“Migration is incredible,” Partridge said. “Southbound migration for example, there are birds that travel from Alaska to New York City, and around New York City, and then take off for a three-day flight over the Atlantic.”
Almost 1,000 birds were reported on the crowd-sourcing website. Without specific data showing the number of dead and injured birds, in New York City, Manhattan, has the most in 2023 while Van Cortlandt Park has one on Broadway. It was a European Starling.
The number of deaths could be higher since only a few people report on dBird.
In 2022, more than 4,000 birds were reported in New York City and several more were reported dead in or near Van Cortlandt Park with several more injured throughout the northwest Bronx. Some of those were a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Red-eyed Viero, American Robin and a Blue Jay.
Joseph Apicella, the executive vice president partner of MacQuesten expressed to the board he will continue to work with the park department on any issue they find problematic.
“Obviously, this project is abutting the New York City Park, Van Cortlandt Park, a place where, as a child, I rode ponies when living in Yonkers,” Apicella said.
“The proposed building will block sunlight to many plants and trees in Van Cortlandt Park,” Demetrios and Dina Plakes of Yonkers said in a prepared statement. “Those plants will have to be transported or will die.”
Jaclyn Tyler from Nexus Creative, an architecture firm, explained their shadow study in a planning board meeting.
During Yonkers zoning board reviews of the project, the applicant studied the project’s shadow impacts on the park and its neighborhood. Nexus Creative said they studied shadows that would cast by the building with a height of 120 feet and the proposed height of 166.5 feet.
Their research found no shadow impact on Van Cortlandt Park to the south of the property during the first days of fall and spring, which was demonstrated through a video on YouTube. The applicant will continue to update city parks on additional research or updates, Tyler added.
The plan for the project is to remove a fair amount of vegetation but is unclear if it spills out of the park, or within the park itself.
“The removal of vegetation is always kind of the last thing that we need, not just for birds, but also for people we’re dealing with climate change,” Partridge said.
Tyler said the applicant would have to “obtain any necessary construction access and staging permits from NYC Parks as a condition of site plan approval.”
Stephanie Ehrlich, executive director of Van Cortlandt Park Alliance, said to The Riverdale Press, the building will not affect the park — as of now.
“We’re waiting to see what the plans are, the developer has to submit those plans to the parks department,” Ehrlich said. “The parks department will either approve or not approve them.”
Besides the Yonkers planning board, Apicella discussed the project plans with the city parks department, Ehrilich and the community. One concern the parks department had was the baseball field nearby in the summer.
The building that is proposed to become The Parker at 632 South Broadway at the corner of Caryl Avenue and South Broadway is currently a one-story masonry warehouse-type facility that operates a youth center.
Philip Armstrong — known to be a strong voice for his community — heavily disagrees with the building proposal. He is worried about the traffic and limited parking it may cause. Also, during the summer, the Little League often uses those ball fields. During games, cars would double park and cause traffic jams.
“If they’re not using it for games, they’re with their barbecues,” Armstrong said. “And having a family party of some kind — it can get a bit noisy, but people are entitled to live their lives.”
Within a presentation given to the Yonkers planning board, attached to the study and calculations of the proposal are studies and analyses based on New York City zoning and quality, affordable housing, city planning and parking requirements.
The planning board chair Roman Kozicky was flummoxed about using a New York University report housing affordability study on the project trying to compare New York City transportation to Yongers.
“Just for the record, I can’t see how it’s being compared where we have in the City of New York,” he said. “You have buses, you have, usually within a couple of blocks of your home, subways. We do not have that, the bus service in Yonkers.”
Transportation is what makes New York City unique. There are bus stops right outside our doorsteps. Armstrong confessed catching a bus north or south it can be fairly easy.
Armstrong fears the amount of traffic it will cause Bronx residents traveling into Yonkers and vice versa.
“But, certainly, the cost of housing and the cost of transportation, housing comes first, and transportation comes second,” said John Canning, the trafficking engineer of Kimberly-Horn.