Councilwoman backs revised Bedford-Union Armory deal

A highly debated Crown Heights development project is now only a council vote away from breaking ground following a heated City Council meeting Tuesday.

Laurie Cumbo, Crown Heights’ City Council representative, defended a revamped proposal to redevelop a former military armory that, she said, would later be looked upon as a pivotal moment in the neighborhood’s ascension.

As Cumbo explained the changes that she negotiated to the Bedford-Union Armory proposal, some in attendance Tuesday hissed and shouted. Before they were escorted out of the hearing, the critics argued that the plan to build 414 rental apartments, a rec center and office space for nonprofits at the 2.8- acre site would indeed be historic — for promoting gentrification.

“I am proud to announce a dramatically revised Bedford-Union Armory project that now lives up to the values that I and so many of you in this room and beyond have fought to achieve,” Cumbo said at the meeting. “We will look back on today as a remarkable turning point in the history of this neighborhood.”

Originally, the city’s Economic Development Corporation planned to sell part of the former military outpost to BFC Partners for the creation of 56 condos. The EDC intended to lease the rest of the site to the developer for 330 mixed-income apartments, office space and a rec center.

After negotiations, EDC has opted not to sell any of the property to BFC Partners and to nix the condos. Instead, BFC Partners will build 414 apartments, which will include a greater share of apartments permanently affordable to those earning up to 60 percent of the metro area’s median income, according to Cumbo. Locals will be given a preference for half of these 250 below market rate units, Cumbo said.

Beyond sheltering some of those threatened by the rising housing costs in Crown Heights, Cumbo said the rec center will offer local residents $10 monthly memberships and provide youth with a positive alternative to gangs.

“We’re saying ‘black lives matter’ but we’re not recognizing that young people are losing their lives in our communities,” she said. “This project is an answer to that state of emergency.”

Skeptics, however, claim the project would only accelerate gentrification in the area. They repeated calls for the project to contain only affordable units since it was slated for publicly held land.

New York Communities for Change, which organizes lower income communities, highlighted some campaign literature put out by the Hotel Workers for Stronger Communities — without coordinating with Cumbo — that claimed Cumbo “stands against the Bedford-Union Armory until 100% of units are made affordable.”

“Laurie’s vote for this deal would confirm all of the worst stereotypes about politicians — that they will say and do anything to be elected, facts be damned,” the group’s executive director, Jonathan Westin, said in a statement. “Only 18% of the project will be affordable to people who make $40,000 — around the median income in Crown Heights. Plainly and simply: This is planned gentrification.”

Cumbo told those attending the hearing she did not lie and abided by a promise to oppose a project with market-rate condos or with majority of units renting at rates unaffordable to local Brooklynites.

With Cumbo’s backing, the project sailed through two council committees Tuesday and will soon appear before the full body. The City Council has traditionally deferred to the local lawmaker when voting on land use projects.


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