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City approves controversial development in Crown Heights Historic district

The most recent proposal for the development site at 959 Sterling Place.
Morris Adjmi Architects

The Landmarks Preservation Commission approved the construction of a controversial seven-story apartment building within a Crown Heights historic district on Tuesday, capping off months of heated debate.

Commissioners spoke highly of the latest version of a proposal to erect a building in the back lot of the historic Hebron School on New York Avenue between Park Place and Sterling Place, which was presented to the commission for the third time on May 11.

“I think that the project has improved, I think that it is appropriate in general terms,” said Commissioner Michael Goldblum. “It’s hard for an architect to modify their scheme this much this many times, but I think it’s come up with a much more appropriate scheme.”

The scheme’s most recent iteration slightly scaled back the structure’s massing and set it back farther from the sidewalk, after commissioners previously critiqued the project for being too imposing. 

“I think the setback was very effective in that regard,” said Goldblum. “To create that sense of campus and move away from that sense of mega structure where we started.” 

The historic Hebron School building seen from Park Place.Photo by Susan de Vries

Developer Hope Street Capital got the go-ahead to build on the grounds of the historic Hebron School, a stately 19th-century campus that was once the Methodist Episcopal Home for the Aged and Infirm. 

The building, 959 Sterling Place, now houses a religious French language school, but has fallen into dangerous disrepair in recent years, to the point where students have not been able to enter the building. 

The new development will occupy this back lot of the building.Photo by Craig Hubert

The Northeast Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, which owns the land, has argued that the project is necessary to bankroll repairs for the landmarked building, much to the chagrin of many neighborhood residents, who sent in over 300 letters of opposition ahead of the most recent public hearing. 

The structure has garnered opposition on numerous fronts, detractors including local Councilmember Robert Cornegy, Community Board 8, the Crown Heights North Association, and members of the congregation that owns the lot

Locals maintain that the building will wipe out the green space that exists behind the historic building, that the structure is disrespectful to the historic district, and that the supposedly affordable units included are not actually affordable to Crown Heights residents. 

Following the Commission’s unanimous approval of the project, the Crown Heights North Association began fundraising for a lawsuit in hopes of halting the project, while local groups lambasted the panel for going against the wishes of neighborhood residents. 

“Thousands of residents, local officials, and community groups were utterly dismissed after months of protest,” the group Friends of 920 Park Place said in a statement. “We put our weight against the door of an invading developer, and LPC has nonchalantly unlatched it, and let them in.” 

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