As Tishman Speyer awaits approval, new details emerge

Building plans are not yet final, firms tells Community Board 8 at recent land use committee meeting


Tishman Speyer has made some minor tweaks to the 340-unit affordable housing project planned for 160 Van Cortlandt Park S., Community Board 8’s land use committee learned in the firm’s presentation March 23.

CB8 will not take any discretionary action on the proposed new building, but Manhattan’s premier office developer is eager to keep things cordial with its new neighbors in the Bronx. 

Their street tree plan will now preserve more of the mature trees that shade the sidewalk surrounding the property, senior director Paimaan Lodhi told the land use committee.

And the curb cut for vehicles entering the parking lot in the building’s courtyard will be on the south side of the block to minimize congestion near the entrance to the Major Deegan Expressway just a stone’s throw away.

The suggestions came from members of CB8’s environment & sanitation and traffic & transportation committees, Lodhi noted.

Little else has changed since CB8 first glimpsed Tishman Speyer’s preliminary designs last September. The city’s housing agency – Housing Preservation & Development – will review it in detail to determine if the project is eligible for tax credits and other incentives. Simultaneously, the New York City Housing Development Corp. is contemplating up to $115.2 million in tax-exempt bond financing for 160 Van Cortlandt Park S.

“Design and financing haven’t been finalized,” Lodhi told The Riverdale Press. He said, “the conversation is ongoing, and the city is actively engaged.”

HDC voted in November on a series of municipal bonds expected to finance dozens of construction and rehabilitation projects that passed through preliminary public review last fall — a “pro forma” step, Lodhi said, before closer scrutiny begins this year.

Tishman Speyer is not alone in the long wait for city approval. Construction starts on affordable housing projects slowed to a glacial pace last year, according to the mayor’s management report. The city’s housing agency produced fewer than 14,000 units of affordable housing in 2022. At the start of the year, the agency was scrambling to fill more than 400 jobs.

Meanwhile, neighbors have watched with interest as work crews conduct asbestos abatement work on the property. The plastic tubing currently protruding from the former church building, rectory, and parochial school will soon make way for demolition equipment, according to the timeline laid out in the slide presentation at last week’s land use meeting.

Michael Babik, head of design and construction for 160 Van Cortlandt Park S., updated the committee that crews are aiming to wrap up abatement work on the property at the end of April.  Babik said demolition will begin in the next six weeks and continue until July.

Board members, neighbors, and elected officials queued up to address their questions and concerns to the firm’s representatives last Thursday.

The two men who arranged for the presentation to take place were absent, however. Former managing director of Tishman Speyer’s affordable housing platform, Gary Rodney, moved to California earlier this month, a spokesperson for the firm said in an email to The Press.

Tishman Speyer said they “credit Rodney with successfully launching our affordable housing platform, TS Communities, and source our initial affordable projects in New York City.”

CB8 land use chair Charles Moerdler also did not participate, having previously recused himself from the discussion. He delegated his chairmanship to land use member Bob Bender.

Bender glanced quickly at the nearly 70 people in attendance and announced he would “give as many people as possible an opportunity to ask questions.”

It went off more or less without a hitch. Tishman Speyer responded to questions from twenty people by meeting’s end.

Some were disappointed to learn that the firm hasn’t budged on the mix of units, with studios and one-bedroom apartments still comprising 70 percent of the building’s units. Twenty percent will have two bedrooms and the remaining 10 percent will have three bedrooms, pending city approval.

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz was particularly discouraged by the numbers.

“I know that the city rules give them the incentive to build as many units as possible,” he said. “But the fact is, unless the numbers have changed recently, 70 percent of the apartments on that site are going to be zero or one bedroom apartments and that is not what the community needs, in my opinion.”

Lodhi said the numbers are part of the city’s “off the shelf” financing for affordable housing, though he couldn’t specify which of the agency’s various term sheets Tishman Speyer’s architects were aiming to apply for.

Elizabeth Giardino, a member of the public, said she supported the project but wanted to know more about the range of affordability. That will vary from households making about $48,000 to $132,000, according to current federal area median income calculations.

They weren’t ready to provide a finer level of detail yet, Lodhi said.

“I really urge you to offer more units at deeper levels of affordability,” Giardino said.

Rosemary Ginty still found the building’s zoning diagram difficult to countenance.

“I don’t see softness. I don’t see yards. I don’t see open space,” she said.

Babik noted the feedback, but said the building has already been through zoning approval.

Fellow CB8 member Dan Padernacht weighed in on the traffic plan, warning, “you’re going to have food deliveries. You’re going to have folks dropping stuff off up front. You’re going to have those people running up to their apartment for five minutes and heading out, taxis waiting.”

“Quite frankly, if a building is designed a certain way, you’re not going to be able to do certain things with your operations,” he said. “And that’s why it needs to be designed into the construction here.”

At several junctures in the meeting, Lodhi returned to the city’s dire need for affordable housing.

“Everyone from the mayor to the governor and the elected officials acknowledge that we’re in a housing crisis,” he said.

He suggested Tishman Speyer’s goals were aligned with the city’s, noting the mayor’s goal to build 500,000 housing units within the next decade.

“Projects are needed at scale, and we think we can do that.”

Tishman Speyer debuted its affordable housing platform, TS Communities, three years ago during the market turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic. Rodney has been at the helm since its launch.

In Rodney’s wake, Lodhi said, “TS Communities remains a key component of our business.”

He described affordable housing as an important area of growth, adding, “we assembled a great in-house team who will lead our current developments. We’re looking at opportunities in every major market,” he said.

“The city and state agencies have been tremendous partners,” Lodhi said.

“We want to help them meet their goals for affordable housing.”

Tishman Speyer, 160 Van Cortlandt Park S., CB8, Community Board 8, Visitation Church, Charles Moerdler, Jeffrey Dinowitz, Paimaan Lodhi, Dan Padernacht,