NYC plan for Bronx homeless shelter has Yonkers homeowners fuming

555 East 238th Street, or 555 Nereid Avenue, 555 East 238th Street, or 555 Nereid Avenue, a former United States Army Reserve Center, has been proposed as a future homeless shelter along the Yonkers/Bronx border. (June 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Andy Jacobsohn

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New York City's plan to construct a homeless shelter in a vacant Bronx armory along the Yonkers border has homeowners and officials on both sides fuming about the potential impact on nearby residential neighborhoods.

On Monday, about 150 Yonkers homeowners packed a meeting of the Woodlawn Heights Taxpayers Association in the Wakefield section of the Bronx to voice concerns about the project, which range from crime and drug use to the influx of homeless men into the area.

"Everybody on this side is totally against this project," said Yonkers Councilman Dennis Shepherd, a Republican who represents the mix of working and middle-class neighborhoods along the Bronx line. "We already have a homeless shelter in the neighborhood and this would have even more homeless men coming into Yonkers."

The project, which is being overseen by the New York City Department of Homeless Services, would renovate the Muller Army Reserve Center -- a four-story, 55,000-square-foot building on East 238th Street and Nereid Ave. -- into a 200-bed homeless shelter for men operated by the Doe Fund, a Manhattan-based nonprofit organization that operates other shelters in the New York City area.

The armory, which sits about 250 feet away from the Yonkers line overlooking the Bronx River Parkway, has been vacant for years as New York City officials have debated what to do with the building. The retail corridor by the armory is surrounded by middle- and working-class residential neighborhoods with modest single-family homes and duplexes.

There's already a 100-bed shelter across Nereid Avenue run by Project Renewal and the city's homeless department. A few blocks away on White Plains Avenue, another shelter is being built, by Praxis Housing Initiatives.

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"They're dumping these shelters in our neighborhoods," said Larry Wilson, a Yonkers homeowner and president of the Hyatt Homeowners Association, an umbrella group representing most of the homeowner's associations in southwest Yonkers. "People are very concerned."

A spokeswoman for the DHS said New York City has been reviewing the project for at least three years and has "incorporated extensive public input" while meeting all the federal requirements to develop the armory into a homeless shelter.

"DHS is committed to being a good neighbor and we are confident that the community will ultimately be proud to host this nationally recognized and respected employment and shelter," DHS spokeswoman Barbara Brancaccio said in a statement.

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Federal law that regulates the redevelopment of military bases gives preference to facilities that assist the homeless, Brancaccio said. So when the city started looking for proposals to fill the space, the shelter plan was given priority.

SPANO MAKES APPEALS TO BLOOMBERG

Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano opposes the project and has sent several letters to New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg asking him to reconsider the shelter or find another location. Spano's concerns range from crime to quality-of-life issues.

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"It will affect the quality of life for residents and increase the demands on public safety," said Christina Gilmartin, a spokeswoman for Spano.

Across the border, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is also opposed to the shelter and has clashed publicly with Bloomberg for pursuing it even after City Comptroller John Liu canceled a $91 million 21-year contract for the shelter earlier this year.

"They're trying to cram this down our throats," fumed James Reilly, president of the Woodlawn Heights Taxpayers Association, which represents hundreds of Bronx homeowners. "We understand there is a need for homeless shelters, but to place two or three of these in one neighborhood isn't fair."

Cecelia Reynolds, who lives off McLean Avenue in Yonkers, said she opposes the project because she worries that the shelter will attract the "wrong elements" to her neighborhood.

"I don't think this is the right neighborhood," the 69-year-old retiree said. "There's so many other places they could put a shelter."

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Andrew Shaw, 35, who lives down the street from the proposed shelter in the Bronx, wonders why the city hasn't considered other uses for the building.

"Other places have converted them into performing arts studios or movie theaters," he said. "It just seems like an inappropriate use for the building."

Others, like Donald Wilkes, worry that a cluster of shelters will bring down local property values, which have already taken a beating from the housing crisis.

"We need more retail and commercial in this area," the 53-year-old Yonkers man said. "Putting another homeless shelter here is going to drag down the whole neighborhood."

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