A much-needed and highly-praised affordable senior housing project on Mulberry Street has neighbors fearing that a construction mistake may greatly impair their daily lives.
On October 12th, 2022, officials from city, county, and state government broke ground on the La Mora Senior Apartments located at 23 Mulberry Street. It was this collaborative effort–particularly in funding–that made this project possible. And with its green-energy technologies and commitment to low-income senior citizens, it was a project that everyone could stand behind.
A modern building for senior living
This four-story building will be home to residents aged 62 years and older. Notably, these residents will be at-or-below 60% of the area median income (AMI)–$61,700 per year. So, this housing greatly helps to fill the gap in affordable housing throughout Yonkers. The 60 apartments average 620 sq/ft per unit, with plans showing 57 one-bedroom and three two-bedroom apartments. Two elevators shuttle residents between their apartments and luxury amenities throughout. Beyond the common energy-conscious features like LED lighting and low-flow plumbing, the building received a “Passive House” certificate acknowledging the heating and cooling efficiency of the entire structure.
The estimated 24 month construction of this building has a price tag of $44 million. The land itself is owned by the Municipal Housing Authority (MHACY)–purchased after Longfellow Junior High School was demolished in 2015. MHACY partnered with its own non-profit, the Mulford Corporation, to construct La Mora. To offset the costs, there are a slew of direct and indirect subsidies. New York State awarded $43 million in tax-exempt bonds, tax credits, and subsidies. Westchester County doled out $3.4 million. And the City of Yonkers also provided over $3 million in funding, with most coming from a loan issued by MHACY itself.
A costly mistake
Six months into the construction of this lauded building, the developer reported a massive mistake. The Westchester County planning board received a new site plan on March 31. This new plan called for major amendments to parking because “the foundation and part of the first floor were mislaid ten feet to the south and east.” Considering all of the oversight that is meant to occur on a project like this, some in city government we spoke with are asking, “how did this even happen?”
La Mora Senior Apartments, with its 60 units, was initially approved for 30 parking spaces. This aligns with the city ordinance for senior housing that allots only a half a space per unit. The rationale being that seniors are less likely to own cars. But now, because of the developer’s mistake, the amended plan only supports 18 parking spaces. Furthermore, additional variances are being requested to narrow the width of the spaces and move them closer to the street to even accommodate this meager 18.
While these variances need approval from the ZBA, the developer has not paused construction on this site. An opinion from the Deputy Commissioner of the Planning & Development department has already deemed that this reduction in parking “should have no significant impact on the community.” And the City Engineer also weighed in citing a parking analysis that concluded 18 parking spaces will be enough for these 60 apartments. The opinions delivered by the agencies are sure to weigh heavy on the ZBA’s decision–which renders moot any objection that the planning board may have to this amendment.
Neighbors push back
While it may be simple for the developer to keep on building, and the city to wave the issue away, the current residents of Mulberry Street are not so agreeable.
Complaints from neighbors of this construction have been flowing into the ZBA. Just around the corner from La Mora is the historic Holy Trinity Orthodox Church. Their pastor, Fr. Volodymyr Zablotskyy, explains that on-street parking in the neighborhood is already sparse. And obviously worse during weekend services. He offers a few solutions instead of fixing the initial mistake like: reducing the number of apartments, moving the parking to the side which gained space due to the error, or replace the park space at 11 Mulberry St with a parking lot. Other neighbors are concerned not just about the senior citizen residents having cars, but their potential visitors and care-takers going in and out. “We are already losing street parking because of this project, where are these new people going to park?” one person we spoke to exasperatedly stated.
Facing the inevitable?
The next Zoning Board of Appeals meeting is scheduled for May 24th at 6pm. Lawyers representing MHACY will be present to argue for the variances needed to allow for reduced parking at 23 Mulberry. But, members of the community will also be present in protest. Chair of the ZBA, Wilson Kimball, has recused herself from these deliberations as she is both the President of MHACY (the owner) and the Mulford Corp (the builder). But, with or without her vote, the board is likely to side with the opinions offered by the planning and engineering departments. Meaning, the residents, visitors, and parishioners of Mulberry street may want to trade-in for more compact cars.