The South Bronx is full of subsidized rental projects, but developer Omni New York is aiming higher with plans for a low-income apartment building that will be one of the most energy efficient in the borough. Omni will construct the second building in its big affordable development in Melrose, Morris Avenue Apartments, to meet the standards of passive house construction. That means the building will have several inches of insulation in the walls, a special ventilation system and extra thick windows.
When complete, Morris II will be the first large, affordable passive house development in the Bronx. It will follow in the footsteps of Via Verde, an eco-friendly, subsidized development designed by Dattner Architects that was finished a few blocks away in 2012. Housing officials also tapped Dattner to design what will become the largest passive house residential building in New York City, a 241-unit affordable tower in Mott Haven that won’t be finished for a few years. The city’s first passive house, below-market development opened three years ago in Bushwick, and senior housing developer HANAC is working on a low-income, passive house rental project in Corona.
Special design and construction techniques will be used to seal all the joints in the exterior facade, making the building completely airtight.
“The result is a building that needs very little energy to cool or heat, depending on the season, and which therefore requires much smaller mechanical systems which use less energy than is required for a conventional building,” Darby Curtis, of Curtis + Ginsberg Architects, wrote in an email to YIMBY. Besides Morris II, Curtis + Ginsberg is also working on below-market, passive house rental projects in the Rockaways and Morrisania.
Energy recovery ventilation units will cycle fresh air into each unit, while slightly cooling incoming air in the summer and heating it during the winter. An energy-efficient variable refrigerant flow system will do the rest of the heating and air conditioning work, saving the developer at least 50 percent on energy costs compared to a traditional HVAC system. The building will still rely on traditional electricity and gas, but a cogeneration microturbine and solar panels on the roof will help supplement the power in case of an outage.
“We feel like it shouldn’t just be luxury buildings that get this kind of efficiency,” said LuLu Chou, Omni’s senior vice president of development. “We think it should benefit all kinds of housing and all kinds of people.”
The 15-story building at 2950 Park Avenue will hold 154 apartments, 46 of which will be set aside for formerly homeless tenants. Five apartments will go to families earning 50 percent of the Area Median Income, or $42,500 for a family of four, and 79 units will be reserved for those earning 60 percent AMI, or $51,600 for a family of four. Finally, 23 units will go to tenants making 80 percent AMI, or $72,500 for a family of four.
It will join a conventionally constructed low-income building next door at 655 Morris Avenue, on the corner of East 153rd Street. That building, the first phase of Morris Avenue Apartments, is also 15 stories tall and includes 176 below-market rentals. Twenty-two of the units were rented to families earning 100 percent AMI, or $90,600 for a family of four, and 153 units were rented to households earning up to 60 percent AMI, or $54,360 for a family of four. Of those lower income units, 35 were set aside for formerly homeless New Yorkers.
Meltzer/Mandl Architects designed the first phase, which aims to receive LEED Gold certification.
Tenants began moving into the building in December, and the city touted the completion of construction in a press release earlier this month. Work on Morris II is expected to begin in April and take roughly two years.