Real Estate

Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment plan begins City Council approval process despite protests

The city’s Economic Development Corporation promised on Tuesday to reevaluate its controversial affordable housing plan for the Bedford-Union Armory redevelopment project in Crown Heights. Amid critics’ pleas for the plan to be rejected, the proposed redevelopment faced its first test in the City Council on Tuesday during a subcommittee hearing on several land use applications filed by the EDC. James Patchett, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation, said during the hearing that his agency and the developer are reevaluating the project’s affordable housing plan. "We are aware that Council Member [Laurie] Cumbo – along with other local leaders and members of the Crown Heights community – have concerns about certain elements of the housing plan, especially the inclusion of market rate condos," Patchett said. "That is something we are currently reevaluating, not only in the context of this specific project, but going forward in the policy we will apply citywide to other projects on city owned land." No decision on the project was made, but the subcommittee was expected to weigh in later this month. Originally built to house the National Guard, the armory became city property in 2013 and although it has previously been used for special events, it has largely remained vacant since then. The EDC is currently looking to sell part of the property – which spans nearly an entire block between Bedford and Roger avenues and Union and President streets – to developer BFC Partners, for the creation of 56 condos. The rest of the land would be leased to BFC Partners and turned into an office space, a recreation center, and 330 apartments – 165 of which would be affordable housing units. The plan would preserve the historic armory’s Drill Hall and Head House, but critics say the city is treading on dangerous ground by proposing to lease public land for private use and not offering enough affordable housing to accommodate a neighborhood that is rapidly gentrifying. “People are being displaced every day,” said Cea Weaver, research director for New York Communities for Change, which advocates for low-income New Yorkers. While half of the project’s units would be available for low-income New Yorkers, Weaver said community groups and some local officials argue the redevelopment should be 100 percent affordable housing. “To give away public land for private use…it would be a vast misuse of our public resources.” New York Communities for Change was among several organizations that rallied on the steps of City Hall Tuesday, urging the subcommittee to vote down the proposal and allow for a new proposal to take shape with all affordable housing units. The coalition also called on newly re-elected Cumbo, whose district covers the armory, to kill the deal. “Cumbo ran her entire re-election campaign on saying the armory plan is not good enough. If she is loyal to her constituents then the plan won’t move forward,” Weaver said. Cumbo’s office did not immediately return a request for comment on the hearing. The councilwoman had initially backed the project along with the de Blasio administration, but has since espoused the same concerns over affordable housing that other community advocates have. Judith Goldiner, attorney-In-charge of the Civil Law Reform Unit at The Legal Aid Society, called the project “flawed” and said it does little for current residents who are suffering from the effects of increasing rents and gentrification. “Land that is fully owned by the public should serve an exclusive public purpose,” Goldiner said in an emailed statement. “Until the Bedford-Union Armory development plan reflects that, we will continue to oppose it on behalf of our clients and other low-income New Yorkers who are in desperate need of affordable and permanent housing.” Goldiner added that the Legal Aid Society hopes that the City Council’s oversight process will prevent the project from setting a “dangerous land use precedent.” EDC spokesman Anthony Hogrebe said the agency would not ignore the concerns voiced by Cumbo and other community advocates. “We’re eager to transform the vacant Bedford-Union Armory into a community recreation center with affordable housing the neighborhood needs,” Hogrebe said after the hearing concluded. “We heard Council Member Cumbo’s concerns clearly, and will continue working with her and the community to make this project even stronger." If the subcommittee approves the deal, the project still needs to clear several other legislative hurdles, including a full City Council vote, before it can move forward. New York Communities for Change and its partners, however, hope the project is rejected, which would open the door to create a plan that they believe should give development oversight to a nonprofit, establish community control through a land trust and offer all affordable housing units.

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