Blue Sea Development, Creating Sustainable Affordable Housing in the South Bronx

My recent article about the developments popping up in the Bronx elicited several emails expressing surprise that this recently sleepy neighborhood is becoming a burgeoning hipster scene. I thought it appropriate to call attention to a less flashy but highly admirable development company in the area, Blue Sea Development.

Many New Yorkers have grown accustomed to feeling at odds with the spaces they inhabit. This is perhaps most acutely true in the city’s affordable housing sector, where too often, “affordable housing” has meant a drab, cramped, insensitively designed box that is far from user-friendly and which may in fact be very user-unfriendly to our bodies. Numerous studies have linked poor design in our living spaces to decreased health and well-being. In 1999, Les Bluestone, a native Long Islander and veteran developer, partnered with Avery Seavey to form Blue Sea Development Company. They set out on a mission to provide affordable housing that is holistic in concept, utilitarian, sustainable and energy-efficient. Their vision has born fruit in an eclectic array of developments in The Bronx that seem to each, in their own way, blend concepts of community, utility and sustainability in ways that are at once playful and illuminating. Let’s take a look at a few of the duo’s most groundbreaking developments in residential sustainability.

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Courtesy of New York City Homes and Community Renewal

Morrisania Homes

450 E 169th St

Blue Sea’s first big splash in green development came in the form of Morrisania Homes, a 24 building complex comprised of three story row houses in the South Bronx. Opened in 2008, the Energy Star and LEED Silver certified complex is constructed using almost entirely recycled materials and is equipped with a state of the art ventilation system, which has greatly improved air quality in the units. This is particularly significant because poor air quality in housing has been linked to the elevated prevalence of asthma in children who live in the Bronx. 12.2 of every 1,000 children who live in the Bronx were hospitalized for asthma in 2010, more than double the city-wide rate.

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Image courtesy of Bernstein Associates

The Eltona
429 East 156th St.

The Eltona is a 5 story, 63 unit, green residential development located in the Melrose section of the Bronx. It provides affordable housing with an emphasis on exceptional air quality and energy conservation to area residents whose incomes are below 60 percent of the area median income. Opened in 2009, The Eltona sports ten high-powered wind turbines, which are visible on the building’s roof. These windmills provide electricity to every common area in the structure. The building was constructed using recycled materials and is outfitted with high efficiency heating and air ventilation systems, as well as Energy Star appliances and fixtures, to name just a few of the Eltona’s energy conservation features. The complex is also 100% smoke-free and was the first development in New York State to receive a Platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for its positive health impact and promotion of clean, renewable energy in a multifamily home.

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Photo credit: Bernstein Associates

The Melody
853 Macy Place

The Melody, a 63 unit co-op with interior decor inspired by the sounds of jazz and the rich, cultural history of the community, was brought to life through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity NYC, and is the first residential building in New York to meet the city’s Active Design guidelines. These guidelines encourage builders and developers to provide housing which promotes healthy lifestyles through design. The site boasts a climbing area for children, an outdoor exercise path and fully-equipped fitness room.

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Photo courtesy of Bob Vila’s Building Green

General Colin L. Powell Apartments
715 Fox Street

Located at the intersection of Fox Street and Leggett Avenue in the South Bronx, this 50 unit LEED-certified affordable co-op is home to the South Bronx’s first green rooftop terrace and its 2,400 square foot expanse of flowering sedum is more than just window dressing. The plants will collect rainwater, adding to the efficiency of the building’s cooling system as well as absorb heat during the warm summer months. The project was completed in 2014 in partnership with Habitat for Humanity and includes 12 units earmarked for applicants selected by HFH. The facility is equipped with an energy efficient heating and cooling system as well as Energy Star lighting fixtures, windows and appliances.

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Image courtesy of Greenhome NYC

Sunflower Way
158th Street and 159th Street

An early foray into the arena of green affordable housing, Sunflower Way is furnished with Energy Star appliances, low-flow water fixtures, and high-performance windows. Constructed in 2005, Sunflower Way is the first affordable housing development to receive Energy Star certification.

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Courtesy of The New York Daily News; Photo credit: Anthony Collins

Philip’s Senior House
220 West 133rd Street

In 2014, in collaboration with the St. Philip’s Housing Corporation, Blue Sea helped to complete a massive renovation of the ailing Philip’s Senior House, located in Harlem. After years of delayed maintenance, the building was on its last legs and badly in need of repair. The complex has now been completely renovated from top to bottom and outfitted with Energy Star appliances and a more efficient heating and cooling system, not to mention a community vegetable garden.

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Courtesy of Bernstein Associates

Arbor House
770 East 166th Street

Situated adjacent to Forest Houses in Morrisania, Arbor House may rank as Blue Sea’s most ambitious and forward thinking project to date.
In Arbor House there is the feeling of a quiet give and take between the living space and the community. Artwork by local children and a living green wall adorn the interior, while up on the roof, a fully operational, 10,000 square foot hydroponic farm supplies fresh produce to the building’s residents and the surrounding community. In Arbor House, Blue Sea has continued to make good on its commitment to providing exceptional indoor air quality. And like all of Blue Sea’s creations, the 124 unit multifamily complex is almost completely free of VOCs (volatile organic compounds, typically present in paint and varnish) and was constructed using recycled and local materials.

Exciting projects in the pipeline include Bronx Commons, a sprawling mixed-use development situated in the Melrose section of the Bronx, which will include 227 affordable housing units, some specifically set aside for artists and elderly musicians. The space will also feature a community event space, as well as a rooftop farm, ample recreational space and retail space.

An easy, unobtrusive efficiency, engaging design elements, and a commitment to addressing the specific needs of developing communities have become the hallmarks of Bluestone and Seavey’s efforts in the Bronx thus far. Their conception of community development, in which the structures themselves become elements of the environment that members of the community can interact with in healthy and meaningful ways, and their continued commitment to sustainability and cost-effectiveness have placed Blue Sea at the vanguard of a greener, more sensible and more holistic future. Blue Sea’s efforts continue to set the benchmark in sustainable affordable housing and give us a tantalizing glimpse of what a green future could look like.

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