Crown Heights

City Council vote approves volatile Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment in Brooklyn

But not until opposing crowd disrupts hearing with screams; Legal Aid files lawsuit

November 30, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Fellow councilmembers support Laurie Cumbo following Thursday’s disruption in the chambers. The City Council overwhelmingly passed the revised plan for the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights. Photo by Mary Frost

Spectators screaming “Kill the Deal!” “Laurie lied!” and “The city is not for sale!” were led from the City Council chambers on Thursday after disrupting the full Council vote on the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment proposal and shaking the key Councilmember backing the plan, Laurie Cumbo.

Once the gallery was emptied, however, the Council overwhelmingly approved the plan to redevelop the Crown Heights site, and Cumbo received plaudits from many of her fellow councilmembers, including David Greenfield and Stephen Levin, for her approach in navigating the difficult land use question.

“I’ve seen over the last year and a half Councilmember Cumbo move into her own and rise to the occasion,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin.

He added, “I’m so proud of the way she has approached this and navigated difficult questions with great dignity and respect.”

As a new mom, Cumbo said she felt threatened by the level of animosity shown by opponents.

“We’re living in dangerous times. It happened here, where my predecessor James Davis was shot and killed. This yelling and shouting, that’s not democracy. This is some new level of hyper-disrespect and it’s continuing to escalate. It’s not going in a positive direction.”

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Visit Brooklyn Eagle on Facebook to view video of Thursday’s disruption

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Cumbo described the expanded amenities she negotiated into the plan just last week, including a greater number of affordable apartments and deeper levels of affordability, the elimination of mostly luxury condos, 10 percent set aside for the homeless, a 99-year lease during which the land will remain public, more than 700 construction jobs and 200 permanent jobs.

“This is progress,” she told the Council, “This is the greatest level of affordable housing Crown Heights has seen in decades.

“This is not just a one day victory,” she added. “This is going to be a powerful place for our community.”

The approval came after more than a year of outcry from community groups and residents.

Revised plan

Addressing concerns articulated by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and others, Cumbo’s recent negotiations with the city and developer BFC Partners eliminated 56 condos and increased the amount of low-income housing.

The plan as approved will turn the former armory, owned by the city, into more than 400 apartments, which includes 250 units of low-income housing, plus a recreation center, office space for nonprofits and a medical facility. Ten percent of apartments will be reserved for formerly homeless people. The recreational center will offer neighborhood residents $10 monthly memberships.

Opponents, however, want the development to include 100 percent affordable housing to help combat rising gentrification in the neighborhood.

Councilmember Inez Barron opposed the plan, saying it would increase gentrification in Crown Heights, and questioned who could afford the affordable apartments.  She urged the city to consider establishing community land trusts and including not-for-profit developers when developing public land.

“There’s always going to be some sort of opposition,” Cumbo said afterward. “Some people were opposed to the recreational facility.”

The Legal Aid Society sued the city Wednesday on the grounds that the project’s environmental study failed to measure the indirect impact on rent-regulated tenants in the surrounding area.

“Gentrification affects all apartments — regulated or unregulated — and the city’s land use decisions need to factor in that obvious reality,” Judith Goldiner, attorney in charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Legal Aid’s request for a temporary restraining order on the project was denied late Wednesday. The case will go to court in February, according to the Daily News.

In May, Cumbo announced her opposition to the armory project as originally proposed, as did Borough President Eric Adams, Councilmember Jumaane Williams, Assemblymember Walter Mosley, NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer and Public Advocate Letitia James.

Cumbo’s political opponents accused her waiting too long, however, before publicly coming out against it. The proposal is backed by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Earlier this month, Jabari Brisport, a Green Party candidate, was one of 10 people arrested and charged with disorderly conduct at a protest at the City Planning Commission vote on the project.  Crown Heights Tenant Union founding member Joel Feingold was also arrested.

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Details of the renegotiated plan:

There will be no condo units included in the final Armory project and the property will remain entirely in public ownership. The more than 400 homes in the project will now be rental units.

Deeper levels of affordability for a greater number of units.

The original proposal included 67 homes that were affordable below 60 percent Area Median Income (AMI) — that’s a family of four making $57,000 a year or less. The final project now includes approximately 250 homes that will be affordable below 60 percent AMI.

The full affordability breakdown is as follows:

–               50 units at 30 percent AMI (inclusive of 25 units set aside for formerly homeless)

–               24 units at 40 percent AMI

–               24 units at 50 percent AMI

–               152 units at 60 percent AMI

Ten percent of the affordable housing will now be set aside for formerly homeless individuals and families. No housing for New Yorkers experiencing homelessness was proposed in the original project.

Call for strengthened rent laws

In a statement following the vote, Vaughn Armour, leader of New York Communities for Change Crown Heights released a statement reading in part, “”More and more wealthy people are moving in to Crown Heights, and my neighbors are being forced out. Even before it was approved, the Armory project has accelerated landlord harassment and evictions; my longtime landlord flipped my building to a private equity company who is refusing to make repairs for old residents, while turning vacant apartments into luxury market rate units.”

He called on Gov. Cuomo to strengthen the rent laws “by ending the eviction bonus for landlords and preferential rent loophole to protect rent-stabilized tenants and prevent displacement.”

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Statement from EDC on the project’s approval

 
Today, the New York City Council approved the de Blasio Administration’s plan to redevelop the Bedford Union Armory into a community recreation center, space for non-profits, and 250 units of affordable housing. New York City Economic Development Corporation issued the following statement: 

“Over the past four years, we have proudly worked with Council Member Cumbo and the Crown Heights community to redevelop a vacant armory into a center of opportunity for this neighborhood. This project will deliver an accessible world-class recreation center, 250 units of affordable housing for families earning between $25,000 and $57,000 a year, and permanently affordable space for local non-profits. We thank Council Member Cumbo for her leadership, and her City Council colleagues for voting in support of a project that will serve the needs of families and residents in Crown Heights for generations to come,” said James Patchett, New York City Economic Development Corporation President.

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