Armed with a new backer: Crown Heights pol declares newfound support for city’s armory scheme before Council

affordable housing
The Bedford Union Armory in Crown Heights.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

It’s an armory armistice.

A Crown Heights pol who for months opposed the city’s plan to redevelop the nabe’s Bedford-Union Armory announced newfound support for the scheme at a Nov. 21 Council hearing, after officials and developers agreed to axe luxury condos and include more affordable housing in the proposal to earn her endorsement.

Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Crown Heights) declared her change of heart in front of her colleagues on a Council subcommittee, describing the revised plan for the military structure at 1579 Bedford Ave. as a historic victory for local residents before the legislators voted unanimously to approve it.

“This is revolutionary in the sense we have not seen this level of affordable housing come to the Crown Heights community in decades,” she proclaimed at a meeting of the Council Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions, and Concessions.

The new version of the scheme does not include 48 swanky condominiums, which the head of the city’s Economic Development Corporation told Council members on Nov. 14 were necessary to fund the plan’s proposed affordable housing and a new community center that developer BFC Partners is required to construct as part of the deal in exchange for a 99-year lease on the publicly owned armory.

The city and developer also agreed to expand the project’s so-called affordable housing component from 166 to 250 units, and reduced the prices of those apartments — which originally ran as high as around $2,300 per month — to between approximately $640 and $1,280 per month. But BFC Partners will still be allowed to build 149 market-rate rentals on the site as part of the revised proposal.

Following the subcommittee’s vote, members of the Council’s Committee on Land Use also approved the project.

The results of a Nov. 30 full Council vote on the plan — its final hurdle in a months-long approval process in which Community Board 9 and Borough President Adams opposed earlier iterations of it — were not available by press time, but members all but certainly voted in line with Cumbo as the building is in her district.

Activists and critics of the city-backed redevelopment plan argued its inclusion of market-rate housing in any form was a giveaway to the developer, and slammed Cumbo for failing to abide by her 2017 re-election campaign promise to fight any proposal that did not include 100-percent affordable units.

“Laurie Cumbo ran her whole election saying she would vote no unless it was 100-percent affordable, and then she comes back with a deal that’s not even close to that, and calls it revolutionary,” said Cea Weaver, who works for housing-advocacy group New York Communities for Change.

Some pro-Cumbo fliers allegedly circulated during her primary campaign stated the councilwoman “stands against the Bedford-Union Armory project until 100 percent of units are made affordable.” But when this newspaper provided a digital copy of one leaflet to the pol’s spokeswoman, Kristia Beaubrun, she said she could not comment without knowing its source.

Cumbo’s biggest Democratic primary challenger, who lost to the incumbent by less than 3,000 votes, expressed her frustration with the legislator for so quickly changing her tune on a project that she said still lacks in affordability.

“I’m disappointed, though not surprised, that Cumbo flip-flopped again in her position on the armory. She promised she would only support a project that included 100-percent affordable housing in all her mailers during the campaign, yet just two months later is set to approve a project that still includes market-rate housing on public land,” said Ede Fox. “At a time when public trust of politicians is at an all-time low, we need elected officials that will represent the people, not say anything they have to in order to get elected.”

Opponents of the redevelopment scheme packed the meeting room for the Nov. 21 Council subcommittee session, and one attendee who listened to Cumbo justify her newfound support for the armory plan — in which he said she referred to the Black Lives Matter movement and suggested the proposed recreation center will reduce gun violence in the community — blasted the pol for her rhetoric.

“She said this was going to make things safer and better for young people, which is so disingenuous,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Skipp Roseboro. “This is going to gentrify the neighborhood, and it will force most of those kids out of the neighborhood before they have a chance to use the facility.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.
F-liar: These fliers allegedly circulated amid Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo’s successful 2017 re-election campaign claimed the lawmaker would fight against any plan to redevelop the Bedford-Union Armory that didn’t include 100-percent affordable housing.