Neighbors Struggle to Coexist on Bronx Block After New Co-Op Opens
CONCOURSE VILLAGE — Maybe it was the enthusiastic gushings Altemis Martinez's friends made when they visited — all the “oohs” and “ahhs” and, “It’s gorgeous.”
Or maybe it was the way her 12-year-old daughter, Destiny, wanted a different classmate to sleep over every night. Or her own sudden urge to take up cooking, now that she had a sparkling new kitchen to herself.
Whatever it was, Martinez was sure that, after saving up for several years, she had made the right decision when she signed a 30-year mortgage for a two-bedroom apartment in Solara, an affordable co-op complex that opened on Grant Avenue, in the Bronx, in 2010.
But soon after she moved in, she started having doubts.
Every afternoon, and most nights, groups of people gathered on the sidewalk outside the new building, their pulsating music, tobacco smoke and the pungent smell of a barbeque grill drifting up into the co-ops above.
From an apartment building behind, trash began to rain down into the co-op's private parking lot. Last month, someone threw a wine bottle, which shattered the rear window of a car parked there.
“We’re having second thoughts about whether this was the right move,” said Martinez, an administrator at Lincoln Hospital who is president of the co-op’s shareholder board.
“Whether we want to put up with this for 30 years.”
Outside the twin 10-story towers of the complex, with its manicured garden and gated parking lot, some long-time residents of the neighborhood see things differently.
“We’ve been sitting here way before those buildings went up,” said Juan Padilla, 44, who works at a medical supply company and lives with his wife and six children in an apartment building across the street from Solara.
On the steamy first day of summer, Padilla sat with two of his children on beach chairs outside one of the Solara buildings and watched his four-year-old son cool off in an open fire hydrant and chase after a butterfly.
Suddenly, a co-op owner walked past and told Padilla in a stern tone that the spot on the sidewalk where he sat was private property and that he was not allowed there.
“I understand you probably paid a lot money to move in the neighborhood,” Padilla said after the woman left. “But you should have thought of this,” Padilla said, motioning to the crowd lounging on the sidewalk, “before you moved in.”
All but one of the co-op buildings’ 160 units are occupied, many by first-time home owners. Shareholders paid from $109,000 for a one-bedroom apartment to about $202,000 for a three-bedroom, plus maintenance fees — below-market-rate prices achieved through city subsidies.
Several Solara shareholders said that besides the occasional family who relaxes on the sidewalk in front of the co-op building at 1259 Grant Ave., groups of men play dominoes there every day, while other adults drink alcohol and crews of young people play music and smoke tobacco out of a hookah.
The crowds of 20 or more often pry open the fire hydrants, the shareholders said, which they sometimes use to wash cars and, in the case of one man, to bathe. One co-op owner was drenched by water as she made her way home from work, they said.
Residents in the apartment buildings that perch on a hill directly above the co-op parking lot have hurled down garbage, bricks, wine bottles, a frying pan and even a bike, according to shareholders.
“It’s really a safety issue,” said Paul Wilkins, 39, a Verizon technician who lives in Solara and has had plastic bottles lobbed at his silver Range Rover. “It’s dangerous — kids are out here playing.”
Solara board members have organized 311-calling campaigns about the sidewalk gatherings, spoken with the superintendent of one of the trash-chucking buildings, met with the local fire company to discuss keeping the hydrants sealed, and asked the nearest police precinct to step-up patrols on the block.
At the 44th Precinct’s June community meeting, Martinez reiterated her concerns to the commanding officer, Inspector Kevin Catalina.
“We’re homeowners and we’re paying taxes, but we’re not getting justice,” Martinez said.
Catalina said he understood why the co-op owners want the sidewalk crews to relocate, but added that there is little the police can do if the crowds aren’t clearly breaking the law.
“We can’t make them disappear,” Catalina said. “If they’re just sitting there, we can’t necessarily move them.”
Roberto Rosa, the superintendent of the apartment building across from Solara, said his neighbors never drink alcohol or create a ruckus on the sidewalk, but instead gather peacefully to talk and relax.
These long-time residents, Rosa added, have been treated unfairly by their new neighbors.
“They buy their apartments, so they think they’re above everybody else,” said Rosa, 66. “They try to control the whole neighborhood.”
But Vernell Gibbs, vice president of the co-op board, disagreed.
“It’s not that they’re losing the neighborhood,” said Gibbs, a health department supervisor who lives with her 7-year-old daughter.
“It’s that we’re trying to bring a different flavor to the neighborhood, and to raise it up.”