The city moved forward with a plan to turn the Bedford-Union Armory in Crown Heights into luxury apartments and condos today, just days after the Councilwoman in whose district the property sits trashed the scheme.
On May 18 Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo [D–Crown Heights] condemned the controversial deal that would hand the city-owned armory over to developers BFC partners, which would convert the historic military structure on Bedford Avenue into 330 rental and 60 condo units, with half the rentals and 20 percent of the condos being offered at below-market rates. But her opposition did not stop the Department of City Planning from beginning a land-use review process for the project this week, which will require input from local and elected officials before the City Council votes on it.
“Since the very beginning our message has been clear — we will not allow public land to be used for the purpose of luxury condominiums,” Cumbo said.
Historically, members of the Council follow the lead of a local representative when deciding the use of public land, so a “no” from Cumbo would mean a “no” from the Council. The plan has been contested by locals who argue that public land should stay public and that the deal — which will offer only 18 of the 330 rental units at rates affordable to locals living in an area with a median income of $40,000 — lacks enough below-market housing.
“Eighteen out of 300?” said Crown Heights resident Vaughn Armur. “That don’t make sense.”
But the lack of affordable housing in the area is reason enough to move forward with the controversial plan, according to an Economic Development Corporation spokesperson.
“We respect the Council member’s views, but we don’t believe this project can wait. We are working to bring a long-awaited community recreational center and badly needed affordable housing to Crown Heights,” said Anthony Hogrebe. “We’ll continue talking to stakeholders on the ground and look for ways to make a great project even better.”
Cumbo, who was in the city’s year-long negotiations with the developer and faces Ede Fox — a Democrat and avowed opponent of the armory deal — in November’s election, was under pressure for months to pull her support for the project as community groups pushed for an alternative that would provide 100-percent affordable housing. She made her May 18 condemnation at Borough Hall flanked by a coalition of elected officials including Comptroller Scott Stringer (D), Public Advocate Letitia James (D), Borough President Eric Adams (D), Assemblyman Walter Mosley (D–Fort Greene), and Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Prospect Heights), who also oppose the deal.
“I tried as a negotiator to negotiate the best deal we possibly could, but we’re at a stalemate,” said Cumbo, who claimed the proposed luxury condos were a deal-breaker.
Anti-gentrification advocates rallied outside the lawmaker’s annual State of the District address last week, which Cumbo gave hours after delivering her statement. The project’s opponents are skeptical that the pol, who has a reputation for being pro-development, will fight the project to the bitter end now that the land-use review process is underway — even though it is a routine procedure.
“This is a farce,” said Alicia Boyd, a member of Movement to Protect the People, a Flatbush pro-affordable housing watchdog group. “Her coming out at the last minute saying she doesn’t support it, and then having the city move forward — you can’t find this situation happening anywhere when it comes to city-owned land.”
Cumbo — who will face re-election before City Council holds its official vote on the plan — said she only found out late last week that City Planning was delivering its land-use review decision on Monday, and that if her condemnation was politically motivated, she would have made it before May 18.
“If I were pulling my support because it was an election year, I would have pulled it a long time ago,” she said. “If it were purely political, the easy road to travel would be against the project from the very beginning.”
The neighborhood community board and Borough President will review the armory plan next now that the land-use review process is underway.