Redevelopment Returning to Williamsbridge, But Barely: Permits Filed at 871 East 217th Street

871 East 217th Street, image from Google Maps871 East 217th Street, image from Google Maps

Through the early 2000s, the northern Bronx neighborhoods of Wakefield and Williamsbridge were a hotbed of small, infill development. Single-family detached homes were razed and replaced with three-family homes and small apartment buildings for the middle class – essentially a smaller-scale, post-1961 zoning version of the densification that the outer boroughs saw throughout the early 20th century.

Unfortunately, this sort of growth has been all but halted. The Department of City Planning maintains that the reasons for the complete collapse in small construction in the city are still unclear, and that market conditions or a change in tax treatment could be responsible.

But as the real estate recovery takes hold throughout the city, another reason seems more likely: the city’s zoning code simply no longer allows much of this sort of construction.

The Bloomberg administration was certainly not kind to small-scale incremental growth in the outer boroughs, and throughout his terms, Wakefield and Williamsbridge – along with many others in the northern Bronx, central and eastern Queens, and southern Brooklyn – were comprehensively downzoned, their “context” enshrined in regulation and new construction largely shut out.

But life finds a way.

Yesterday, a permit was filed on behalf of Robert Lumaj, a developer based in Albanian-heavy Morris Park, for a 15-unit apartment building designed by Badaly Architects at 871 East 217th Street, near the corner of Bronxwood Avenue. With nearly 10,000 square feet of residential space, the units will average just over 650 square feet, and the project will contain 10 open air parking spaces.

The new building permit application – for a project that’s actually a bit larger than most of the old three-family homes that were erected up until the late 2000s – suggests that demand has returned, but with a dearth of buildable sites, there aren’t many like it being filed, which is why it caught YIMBY’s eye.

At just four stories and filling less than half its lot, the building will be fairly low density compared to what was allowed in earlier years – a bad omen for the city’s longterm affordability, as these neighborhoods are some of the last redoubts of market-rate housing aimed at the city’s truly middle class buyers and renters.

Three-family homes built within the decade can be had in the $600,000s – much cheaper than many of Brooklyn’s similarly-sized brownstones, and in much better shape. Rental rates for new apartments at the low end of the market are hard to find, but there are some condos whose prices are recorded, and they are among the most affordable in the five boroughs – new 1,000-ish-square foot apartments cost somewhere in the $200,000s, and smaller units sell in the $100,000s. With prices in the $200s per square foot, buyers get four times the square footage for their money compared to the gentrifying parts of Brooklyn.

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