Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. declared yesterday that he would not support the construction of a new animal shelter that the de Blasio administration plans to build on city-owned vacant land at 2050 Bartow Avenue, next to Co-Op City. Instead, Diaz Jr. is siding with constituents who have called for a youth recreational facility at the site, and echoed the sentiment of residents who say the city did not consult with them on the shelter plans. "There was a lack of respect here," Diaz Jr. said.
It's the latest development in a conflict that has pitted Diaz Jr., developers, and some Co-Op City residents against Bronx animal rights groups, the mayor, and the city Department of Health. This afternoon, animal advocates are holding a rally at the proposed site of the shelter.
For years, the borough has had no city-funded shelter, and in 2014, the Daily News reported that the city does not provide spay and neuter services in the Bronx. In 2016, the only no-kill shelter in the borough, New Beginnings, was forced to close. It had been running on private donations for six years, and the owner, Pedro Rosario, had to use much of his own savings to keep it afloat. Rosario pleaded with the city to help keep the shelter running, but because it was not part of the city's shelter system, the city did not intervene. At the time, the mayor allocated $10 million for new shelters in the Bronx and Queens.
In January of this year, Mayor de Blasio announced the location of the new shelter, a 47,000-square-foot facility with space for "70 dogs, 140 cats, 30 rabbits and 20 animals from other species." At the time, the expected cost was $60 million, serviced by the non-profit Animal Care Center. The shelter would also "bring more than 100 permanent jobs at all levels to the community,” a Health Department spokesperson told AM New York last month.
“This new shelter will be a critical life-saving resource for pets and their owners in the Bronx,” said Matt Bershadker, President and CEO of the ASPCA, in the January press release. “For too long, vulnerable Bronx animals have been transported to shelters in neighboring boroughs, which adds to the challenges at those facilities and hinders reunions between lost pets and their owners."
But on May 31st, local residents spoke out against the plan at a committee hearing of Community Board 10, The Bronx Times reported. Lesile Peterson, a Riverbay Board Director, said “we really would prefer to have a youth center, which is what we have been asking for a long time. We are still a ‘no pet’ development.” On June 27th, the community board rejected the city's plan in its advisory vote.
“We don’t want it to be a struggle for the neighborhood,” City Councilman Andy King, who represents Co-op City, told AM New York. “The neighborhood is saying this is not the location. They have been looking for a youth center.”
Further complicating matters, on June 7th, the City Council passed a bill requiring every borough to have an animal shelter.
Supporters of the shelter say that King and Diaz Jr. are being swayed by developers and lobbyists. First Hartford Realty Corporation is a member of an organization that manages a senior housing development next to the proposed shelter, and the developers said that they would include a community center if they are able to build more affordable housing at the site.
The shelter plans will ultimately face a vote in front of the City Council, pending a review by the City Planning Commission. If King comes out against the plan, it would likely be enough to doom the shelter, as City Council typically defers to the position of the local representative for the district that would be impacted by the development.