Crown Heights

Crown Heights pols clash over Bedford-Union Armory proceedings

November 10, 2016 By James Harney Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The plan for the Bedford-Union Armory, shown above, has been a continuous source of controversy. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan

One Elected Official Says Scrap the Existing Project; Another Advocates Continuing it — for Now

Generally, armories have been constructed to prepare for war, not to generate war. That does not seem to be the case, however, with the long-vacant Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights.

A plan to redevelop the massive city-owned structure into market-rate and affordable housing, a recreation center and shops has already sparked a firestorm of controversy.

After local activists angrily contended that the two lead developers chosen by the city could not be trusted to make good on their pledge to make half of the proposed 300 units of housing affordable, one developer, Slate Property Group, pulled out of the deal, leaving BFC Partners as the sole lead developer on the project. 

In fact, the community’s opposition to the project as initially proposed was so strong that New York Knicks star forward Carmelo Anthony’s foundation, which was to have provided funding for the rec center proposed for the redeveloped armory, also withdrew.

Now, the ongoing clash over the affordable housing development at the armory site appears to have put two area politicians, City Councilmember Laurie Cumbo and Assemblymember Diana Richardson, on opposite sides of the fence on the issue.

Crain’s New York Business reports that Cumbo (D-Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant, East Flatbush) contended last month that while the impasse over affordable housing at the Armory site is “unacceptable to me and…unacceptable to all of my colleagues,” the de Blasio administration should continue to negotiate with BFC until a satisfactory agreement can be reached.

According to the Crain’s report, Cumbo said the Armory deal should be scrapped only “if we can’t maximize and push the project to bear the greatest amount of affordability possible.”

But in response to the Councilmember’s comments, Richardson penned a letter of her own to the blog Kings County Politics, calling for the entire Armory redevelopment project to be scuttled.

Richardson (D-Crown Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens) contended in her letter that the project “represents a classic tale of gentrification: 5 percent of the rental units will be affordable [to households with] 40 percent AMI [Average Median Income in New York City]. 

“Our [Crown Heights] community’s AMI is close to 40 percent of the City AMI. This means that just 5 per cent of the project — a mere 18 units — will be affordable to the community,” the assemblymember continued. 

She urged that housing in the redeveloped Armory should be “100 percent affordable.” 

Without naming names, Richardson alleged in her letter that “four of the five elected officials in discussion with the city around this project have not seen financials for this project. Despite that, BFC Partners continues to seek our support. How can any elected official support a developer that has refused to be transparent with their plan?

“It was…brought to the attention of the [de Blasio] Administration by way of grassroots activist groups like New York Communities for Change and Crown Heights Tenants Union that Slate had already duped with city at a different project site in Manhattan.”

That was a reference to much-publicized reports that Slate was alleged to keep quiet its deal to redevelop the former Rivington House nursing home on the Lower East Side into luxury housing until the city lifted a restriction mandating that the property be used solely for health care purposes.

“Upon this revelation, the City dropped Slate,” Richardson added. “We remain stuck with BFC Partners — a developer who has sued low income homeowners, has been accused of paying poverty wages and … has intimidated tenants out of organizing their own building [even though the low-income tenants lack cooking gas in their homes.]

“BFC Partners is not qualified to develop this site,” Richardson wrote in conclusion. “We are calling for this deal to be killed and for the flawed process to start over again.”