Columbia Waterfront

Affordable housing and community gardens preserved in Columbia District deal

July 21, 2016 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Community groups celebrated a deal on Thursday that will preserve affordable housing and two community gardens in the Columbia Waterfront District. Shown (center): Councilmember Brad Lander. (Left to right) South Brooklyn Renewal tenant Marie Testaverde, Avery Hall Investments Principal Brian Ezra, Avery Hall Investments Principal Avi Fisher, South Brooklyn Children’s Garden Founder Shannon McGuire Mulholland, Carroll Gardens Association (CGA) Board Chair Mike Racioppo, CGA Executive Director Vilma Heramia,

Outcome of years of work in Brooklyn

The sale of a long-vacant lot will generate the funds to preserve 28 units of existing affordable housing in the Columbia Waterfront District, seed the creation of up to 70 new units of affordable housing in Red Hook, and protect two local community gardens.

The deal was called a “win-win-win-win” by Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander Thursday morning, as the organizations responsible for crafting the agreement celebrated with a press conference at 163 Columbia St. and photo op in the nearby South Brooklyn Children’s Garden.

“Number one, it’s a lovely, in-scale development that will fit right into the neighborhood,” Lander said. “Two, it provides resources for the Carroll Gardens Association to permanently preserve 28 affordable units.

“Three, it provides the resources to explore new affordable housing in Red Hook,” he continued. “And four, it makes permanent green space,” at the South Brooklyn Children’s Garden and the nearby Pirate’s Garden. Both gardens had been on year-to-year leases. Councilmember Carlos Menchaca will be working with Lander on the Red Hook preliminaries.

The agreement was approved by the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and the City Council. It allows the non-profit Carroll Gardens Association (CGA) to sell the 1,991-square-foot lot, which had been covered by a deed restriction to ensure it remained open space. (CGA purchased the lot in 1991 as part of a seven-lot package in the South Brooklyn Renewal Project.)

Avery Hall Investments purchased the lot and intends to develop a four-unit market-rate residential building, with no rezoning required.

The city looked over the agreement closely because of the release of the deed restriction, a rare event which has generated controversy recently in the case of Rivington House, a Manhattan community health facility.

After a flurry of criticism, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in July a series of reforms to the city’s procedures concerning the release of city-owned property from deed restrictions.

“They were very serious about what it meant to release a deed restriction,” Lander said. “The city wanted to know the details of what CGA would be doing, legal work had to be put to paper and it took some time.”

He added that the deal built on years of engagement by the Carroll Gardens Association.

“What a great strength of civic and community energy is in this neighborhood,” he said.

Carroll Gardens Association Executive Director Vilma Heramia. Photo by Mary FrostCGA Executive Director Vilma Heramia praised Lander for “connecting the dots” and seeing the deal through. “Without this agreement, the project’s affordability requirements would expire, leading to the loss of much-needed affordable housing in this community.”

The neighborhood preservation organization has also organized rent-stabilized tenants, formed the Southwest Brooklyn Tenant Union and organized childcare workers, Heramia said.

Lander, in turn, praised Avery Hall for sticking with the negotiations after roughly two years of working with CGA and the city.

Avery Hall says the new building will have a “contextual, yet modern, design.”

The affordable housing is targeted to people who earn less than 60 percent of the area median income, with 30 percent set aside for the homeless.

Sunshine Flint, a gardener and planner of the South Brooklyn Children’s Garden, said she was thrilled with the deal. 

“This means the garden will survive,” she told the Brooklyn Eagle. The garden plays a vital role in the community, she said, with free gardening classes for children and donations to Foodbank New York.

“We donated 250 pounds of fresh produce to a pantry in West Harlem last year,” she said.

Shannon McGuire Mulholland, founder of the South Brooklyn Children’s Garden, said the garden had 114 members, more than half children.

“It’s amazing when you have small children and they know where their food is coming from,” she said. Through donating to Food Bank, kids also hear a “powerful message” that some people don’t have enough food, she added.